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Todd R. Tatro Attorney at Law
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California Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits

There are few occurrences in life that are more painful than losing a loved one. When the loss occurs due to an on-the-job accident that could possibly have been prevented, the loss seems even more tragic and unthinkable.

California worker’s compensation laws dictate that death benefits will be available to any dependents of an employee who has suffered a compensable on-the-job injury that resulted in his or her death. Dependents in a general sense, usually refer to the spouse and children of the decedent, but in certain situations can refer to others who were also dependent financially for support on the deceased worker on the date of injury.  These others could potentially include good faith members of decedent’s (deceased worker’s) family or household on the date of injury that resulted in death.

Dependents are also defined by category: partial dependents and total dependents. Partial dependents are those immediate family members or others who only partially depended on the decedent financially, and for their care, love, and support. Total dependents are those who depended fully on the decedent for the same.

In order to be automatically considered a total dependent by statute in California, you must be a minor child of the worker who died and be under the age of 18, or a child of any age who has been deemed unable to physically or mentally care for themselves and make their own living (incapacitated from earning). The decedent’s spouse will also automatically be considered to be a total dependent if it is shown that they earned less than $30,000 in the 12 months preceding the death of their spouse.

There are some exceptions to the laws surrounding total dependency, and these are considered on a case-by-case basis. For instance, a good faith full-time member of the decedent’s household who was completely dependent upon the decedent for financial support at the time of injury that resulted in death  would likely be considered a total dependent.  Another example of total dependency might exist where you have a live-in elderly parent of the worker or their spouse who also depended fully on the decedent for financial support on the date of injury. Again, unless someone fits into one of the statutory presumptions that establish dependency, for all other potential dependents (whether total or partial), their status and possible entitlement to benefits will usually depend on the facts as they exist at the time of injury of the deceased employee and what can be proved.

Generally, anyone who is a member of the deceased worker’s family but is not a total dependent might be considered a partial dependent so long as it can be shown that they relied on the decedent for some financial support. An example of this would be if the worker’s spouse made more than $30,000 in the 12 months (year) preceding the death of the worker. Under these facts, the spouse would most likely be considered to be only a partial dependent since he or she did not meet the statutory requirement to be considered a presumptive total dependent.

With regard to Death Benefits, for the dependents who qualify there are two different types of benefits available to dependents – burial expense benefits and death benefits.

Burial expense benefits are what is provided to cover reasonable expenses that are related to the burial costs of the worker.  For injuries on or after January 1, 2013, the current maximum limit for burial expenses that the insurance company is required to pay is up to $10,000.  If the injury resulting in death occurred on or before December 31, 2012, then the maximum limit for burial expenses would be up to $5,000.

Death benefits work a little differently. The money that the deceased worker’s dependents receive is determined by how many dependents there are that are entitled to benefits, and status as either total or partial dependents.  Currently for injuries on or after January 1, 2013, the potential death benefit available is $250,000.  In the event there are two total dependents, then the potential death benefit available would be $290,000 total for the entire group. Should there be three or more total dependents, then the total death benefit payment available is $320,000 to the group.

It is important to keep in mind, that any Death Benefits benefits to which a dependant may be entitled, are not paid all at once. Under normal circumstances, these monies will be paid out in a periodic fashion at the decedent’s weekly temporary disability rate over time until the entire benefit Awarded has been awarded paid.  Although the death benefits are usually paid at the deceased employees weekly temporary disability rate,  by statute no benefit payment will be made at a weekly rate of less than $224 per week.

In addition, it should be pointed out that a partial dependents benefits are calculated/paid differently than total dependents. If there is more than one total dependent, then any potential partial dependents will not be eligible for death benefits. The reason for this is that the law recognizes that total dependents have more of a need than partial dependents do for these financial benefits due to their increased dependency upon the deceased.

If there is only one total dependent, then any partial dependents who are eligible for death benefits, will generally be entitled to be paid four times the amount of the annual (yearly) support they had received from the worker while they were still alive, up to the statutory maximum in effect for that date of injury. However, the above formula for partial dependents would change if there are no total dependents.  But again, if there are two or more total dependents, then any potential partial dependents would not be eligible for death benefits by statute.

Alternatively, if there are no total dependents but only one or more partial dependents, then for injuries on or after January 1, 2006 resulting in death, the partial dependents would be eligible to receive eight times the amount of the annual (yearly) support they had received from the worker while they were still alive, again up to the statutory maximum for such death benefits.

Further, minors who a considered total dependents are also treated differently. After the above total and partial death benefits have been made, the weekly payment of death benefits would continue until the youngest child attains the age of 18 years old.  If the dependent child is physically or mentally incapacitated from earning, then the death benefits would continue until the death of that child.  The ongoing payments to the dependent minor or child who is physically or mentally incapacitated would be paid in the same manner and amount as temporary disability would have been paid to the deceased employee.  However, again by statute no periodic payments will be paid to minors at an amount less than $224 per week.  Also, if there is more than one dependent minor or child who is physically or mentally incapacitated from earning, then the death benefit paid would usually be split equally among those minor or disabled dependent children.

The immense stress and the sudden changes you go through as the loved one of someone who has died due to a workplace accident can be enormous and feel overwhelming.

Let Fresno Workers Compensation Attorney Todd R. Tatro utilize his 30+ years of experience with workers’ compensation law to help you obtain the benefits that you’re entitled to. Contact Todd at (559) 431-0123, or via the internet on his contact page.