In the tragic event that an employee dies from a job-related accident, workers’ compensation provides death benefits to surviving dependents. In exchange for these benefits, the family surrenders its right to file a lawsuit against the employer. However, if applicable, survivors may be able to file a wrongful death claim against a responsible third party to seek additional money damages. As such, a wrongful death workers’ compensation lawsuit is actually two different things: a workers’ compensation case and a civil lawsuit. Here’s what you need to know:
Workers’ compensation death benefits
Death benefits are available to a deceased worker’s spouse, children, and other dependents that relied on the worker’s income for support. Under California law, certain family members are automatically considered total dependents:
- Children under the age of 18
- Adult children who are physically or mentally incapacitated and unable to work
- A spouse who earned $30,000 or less in the 12 months prior to the worker’s death
Other individuals may qualify as total dependents, depending on the circumstances. In addition to $10,000 for burial and funeral expenses, eligible dependents are entitled to death benefits paid out in weekly installments:
- $250,000 for one dependent
- $290,000 for two dependents
- $320,000 for three or more dependents
What is a wrongful death claim?
A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit that arises when a person loses his or her life due to the fault or negligence of another person or entity. Wrongful death claims involve all types of fatal accidents, from medical malpractice to vehicle collisions. In the workplace, wrongful death claims usually arise due to a manufacturing defect, an employer’s failure to provide proper safety equipment or a hazardous work environment. If a third party is determined to be responsible for a worker’s death, surviving dependents may be able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit to court.
Who can file a wrongful death claim?
In California, only certain people are allowed to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of a deceased worker. These include:
- The deceased worker’s surviving spouse
- The deceased worker’s domestic partner
- The deceased worker’s surviving children
If the worker does not have any dependents in his or her line of descent, surviving parents or siblings may file a wrongful death claim.
Damages in a wrongful death claim
In addition to workers’ compensation death benefits, dependents can receive additional money damages from a wrongful death claim. The specific amounts will depend on the facts of the case, but damages are typically divided between losses attributed to the estate and losses attributed to the surviving family members. The former includes funeral and burial expenses, medical and hospital bills for the deceased worker’s final injury or illness, and potential income the worker would have been expected to earn had he or she lived.
Personal losses paid to surviving family members include the value of household services, loss of anticipated financial support, and loss of emotional support, love, and affection. The statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim in California is two years from the date of the worker’s death. If the family does not bring a lawsuit to a civil court within this timeframe, they will likely lose the right to file at all.
Have you lost a loved one in a work-related accident? You may be able to file a wrongful death claim.
No amount of money can make up for the loss of a loved one, but it might help to know that your future will be provided for even in the wake of tragedy. In addition to death benefits paid by workers’ compensation, you may be entitled to additional money damages if a negligent third party was responsible for your loved one’s death. At the Law Office of Gerald Brody & Associates, we believe you should get every last dollar you’re entitled to. Our workers’ compensation attorneys will perform a free case review to see if you’re eligible to pursue a wrongful death claim. Give us a call today to schedule your consultation at (619) 528-9800.