Losing a loved one is an emotional and devastating experience made even worse if the death was caused by an accident at work. On top of dealing with grief, frustration and anger, you may be struggling to figure out how you and other survivors will support yourselves or make up for the financial losses and expenses brought on by your loved one’s passing. While no amount of money can replace your loved one, understanding death benefits available through workers compensation versus a wrongful death lawsuit is important to securing your family's financial future.
Employers are required to carry workers compensation insurance, which provides several types of benefits to workers, including death benefits in the event of a fatal accident. All employees are covered by workers compensation, regardless of the number of hours worked or how long the employee has been on the job. Workers compensation is also a no-fault system, which means that benefits are available regardless of the circumstances of the accident, even if the worker was at-fault.
What are the Workers Compensation Death Benefits in New Jersey?
When an employee dies as a result of a workplace accident or illness, workers compensation death benefits include funeral expenses, up to $3500, as well as a weekly benefit amount up to 70 percent of the worker’s average weekly wage. It’s important to note that there are caps on this weekly benefit amount. In 2021, the maximum weekly is $969/week.
Spouses and the victim’s children are assumed to be dependents and thus will receive these benefits. A workers compensation judge will determine how the benefits are distributed between the beneficiaries. Children who are deemed to be dependents remain so until the age of 18 years or if a full-time student, until the age of 23 years. Other relatives like parents, grandchildren, or siblings may be eligible to receive benefits if they can prove they were financially dependent on the deceased.
Workers Compensation vs Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Largely speaking, employers benefit from the workers compensation system in that they are generally shielded from lawsuits related to workplace deaths. However, there could be other parties that are liable in the workers’ death.
Using a construction site as an example, general contractors and subcontractors have performed inferior work thus creating a situation in which the accident could happen. Or, they may have failed to let others on the jobsite know about dangerous or hazardous conditions. An equipment or parts manufacturer could be liable if the product design or part was defective. In these types of scenarios, the surviving family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the third party, not the employer.
In a wrongful death claim, the surviving family members can sue for damages beyond what is covered by workers compensation death benefits if they can prove the other party was negligent. In a successful claim, survivors can be compensated for their loss of companionship, children can be compensated for the loss of parental guidance. And, the amount of lost income and earning capacity is not capped in a wrongful death lawsuit.
The amount of compensation available in a wrongful death claim is far greater than workers compensation death benefits. The biggest drawback of pursuing a wrongful death claim is the time it may take to resolve. While some claims are settled in a few months, others can take years to settle.
What Type of Lawyer Should I Contact?
Even if you don’t believe you have a case for a wrongful death claim, you should contact an attorney who can help you with the workers compensation death benefits process. Some employers or insurance companies may offer a lump sum settlement and will try to get you to take it early on in the process. A lawyer can take the burden off your shoulders, represent your best interest and help you get the maximum compensation for your loss.
At Brandon J. Broderick, Attorney at Law, our attorneys are experienced in both workers compensation, wrongful death and personal injury. We approach every case with compassion and empathy. Contact us today for a free consultation. With our proven track record of success, we can get you the justice you deserve.