When work accidents end in tragedy, and a worker is killed on the job, the surviving family has two options for pursuing legal action: a workers’ compensation claim or a wrongful death claim.
Workers’ Compensation Claims
In California, workers’ compensation death benefits are available to the surviving family members of workers who die as a result of a work-related injury or illness. These benefits are intended to help cover the costs associated with their loved one’s death, including funeral expenses and lost income. Under state law, the following family members are typically eligible to receive workers’ compensation death benefits:
A surviving spouse
Children under the age of 18
Children who are physically or mentally incapacitated and unable to earn a living
Dependent stepchildren or grandchildren
Parents or siblings who were financially dependent on the deceased worker
The amount of workers’ compensation death benefits that family members can receive varies depending on a number of factors, including the worker’s average weekly wage at the time of their death and the number of dependents eligible to receive benefits.
Types of Compensation
Generally, workers’ compensation death benefits provide for the following:
Payment of burial expenses up to a maximum of $10,000
A weekly benefit for eligible dependents equal to two-thirds of the deceased worker’s average weekly wage, subject to a maximum weekly amount
An additional benefit for eligible dependents who were living with the deceased worker at the time of their death, equal to $250,000
In most cases, family members cannot file a wrongful death lawsuit against their loved one’s employer for damages if they file a workers’ compensation claim.
Wrongful Death Claims
When a worker dies on the job due to the negligence or intentional actions of another party, such as an employer, contractor, or equipment manufacturer, the surviving family members may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim. A wrongful death claim is a legal action that seeks to hold the responsible party accountable for the death and to compensate the surviving family members for their losses.
In a wrongful death claim, the surviving family typically must prove that the death was caused by the negligence or intentional actions of the defendant (at-fault party). For example, if a worker dies in a construction accident due to a faulty piece of equipment, the family members will need to establish that the equipment was directly responsible for their loved one’s death to hold the manufacturer or distributor of the equipment liable.
Types of Compensation
The surviving family members may be able to recover damages for a variety of losses, including:
Funeral and burial expenses
Medical expenses incurred prior to the worker’s death
Lost income and future earning capacity of the deceased worker
Personal property damage
Loss of consortium and companionship
Pain and suffering
In some cases, the court may also award punitive damages, which are intended to punish the defendant for their wrongful actions and to deter similar conduct in the future.
If you have lost a loved one in a work-related accident or due to an occupational illness, a trusted Fresno wrongful death lawyer can help. They can help you understand your legal options and advise you on the best course of action.