Every year, thousands of people die because of work-related illnesses and injuries. Losing a loved one is always a tragedy, but the gravity of the loss is magnified when death is caused by a preventable workplace accident. Along with the emotional toll that an unexpected death brings, there’s the financial impact to consider. Losing a loved one’s income can make it impossible to pay the bills, putting surviving family members in a difficult position. But if you live in North Carolina, there is help. If you lose a family member because of an on-the-job injury or illness related to their work, you might be eligible for workers’ comp death benefits.
North Carolina Workers’ Comp Death Benefits
When someone survives a work-related accident, they can apply for North Carolina workers’ compensation and receive payments to partially replace their income until they are well enough to return to work. After a worker’s death, family members can apply for two benefits: wage replacement and funeral expenses.
Wage Replacement Benefits
The North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act § 97-38 determines how much compensation a family member can get and how long they’re eligible for benefits. The rules can be confusing, but there are a few essential points to remember.
State law says that benefits should go to anyone who was “wholly dependent” on the worker’s income at the time of an accident — in most cases, this applies to a widow or widower and the deceased’s minor children. The widowed spouse would receive all the payments if there weren’t any children. And if there isn’t anyone who is wholly dependent, other family members deemed next-of-kin can receive workers’ compensation payments.
If the surviving partner is unable to work due to disability, they’ll be eligible for payments until they remarry or pass away. Under most circumstances, benefits are paid for 500 weeks, or roughly 9.5 years. One exception is if a minor child is a dependent. In that case, they are eligible for benefits until they turn 18, even if it’s more than 500 weeks after the worker’s death.
The amount a family member receives will vary depending on how much the deceased worker made before death. The North Carolina workers’ compensation system outlines the process to determine an employee’s average weekly wage (AWW). From there, workers can receive up to 2/3rds of their AWW until they can return to work. The AWW rule also applies to surviving family members, who can receive a minimum weekly benefit of $30 and a maximum benefit of $1,254.
Families in North Carolina can receive up to $10,000 in burial expenses through the workers’ comp program. This money can be used for services, burials, cremation, embalming, caskets, and other costs associated with a funeral.
How Do You Apply?
A family member should file Form 18 Notice of Accident with the North Carolina Industrial Commission as soon as possible after a fatal incident or illness. While family members can file claims up to two years after a death, submitting the form sooner is ideal. Employers must also notify the Industrial Commission and complete Form 29 Supplemental Form for Fatal Accidents to identify a worker’s dependents and next-of-kin within 45 days of the death.
Do I Need A North Carolina Workers’ Comp Lawyer?
The workers’ comp system in North Carolina doesn’t allow employees or their family members to sue an employer if they’re receiving workers’ comp benefits. But there are exceptions. If a third party acted negligently and bears responsibility for a loved one’s death, a family member can file a wrongful death claim. If an employer intentionally harms an employee and causes their death, you may also be eligible to file a lawsuit. Lastly, if a company doesn’t carry mandatory workers’ comp insurance — in North Carolina, businesses with three or more employees must be insured — you can file a civil lawsuit against the employer.
You may wonder how a North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer can benefit you. While the claims process is designed to be straightforward, it can quickly become complicated by delays. You may even have the claim wrongfully denied by an insurer. In the aftermath of a loved one’s untimely passing, you may be overwhelmed by all of the things you need to get done while reeling from grief, like planning a funeral and handling your family member’s legal and financial affairs. Dealing with a workers’ comp claim on top of these responsibilities may feel like too much to bear. When you hire a workers’ compensation lawyer from Whitley Law Firm, we handle the claim so you can focus on your emotional recovery. Call us 24/7 at (919) 336-0764 or contact us online for a free case review.
The Whitley Law Firm is a family affair—in all the ways that matter. Partner Ben Whitley works with his father and brother to create a formidable force when representing clients. After all, helping injured individuals—people who have the deck stacked against them when fighting corporations—is why the Whitleys got into the business in the first place.