North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits

In North Carolina, the workers’ compensation system was created to compensate employees who suffer a work-related injury or illness. Workers’ compensation benefits are designed to provide compensation for medical bills, lost wages, future medical expenses, and funeral expenses in case of a fatal work-related accident or illness.

gavel5.jpgWhile most people associate lost wages with people who are injured on the job but still living, lost wages benefits are often the most important aspect of a workers’ compensation claim involving a worker who has been killed on the job.

As our Charlotte workers’ compensation attorneys can explain, pursuant to section 97-38 of the North Carolina General Statutes (Workers’ Compensation Act), surviving spouse or child of an employee who was killed on the job, or died as a result of an on-the-job illness determined to be a major contributing factor, is eligible to receive a workers’ compensation death benefits award.

In North Carolina, a death benefits award can include a total of $10,000 in reimbursement for funeral expenses as well as payment for lost wages. Lost wages benefits in the context of a death benefits award are capped at 500 weekly payments of a sum equal to two-thirds of the state average weekly wage. If decedent did not have a surviving spouse, and the benefits are being paid to a minor child, they are paid for a maximum of 500 weeks, or until the minor child reaches 18 years of wage, whichever occurs first.

The situation can become even more complicated when a worker dies as a result of a work-related injury or illness but did not die immediately after the accident. For example, in cases in which a worker becomes sick from chemical exposure, he or she may live for a significant amount of time following initial exposure. During that time, he or she may become partially or totally disabled and apply for workers’ compensation benefits. If he or she collects workers’ compensation benefits and then later dies with the work related injury or illness being a major contributing cause, his or her family may still be entitled to a death benefits award, but employer or employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company may deny the claim, or approve a lesser amount than family is actually entitled to.

In such cases, it is helpful to consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney as early in the process as possible. One area frequently litigated occurs when employer argues employee’s death was not proximately caused by employee’s work-related injury or illness. In these cases, it may be necessary to prepare medical records and hire an expert witness to testify as to employee’s actual cause of death.

Another area in which employer is likely to argue involves properly separating past medical bills from the lost wages component in a death benefits award. Employers often argue this amount should be subtracted from a death benefits award, and you want to make sure you have an experienced workers’ compensation death benefits attorney fighting on your side to get you the benefits to which you are rightfully entitled.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
North Carolina General Statutes Section 97-38

More Blog Entries:
Bike v. Johnson & Johnson Health Care – Workers’ Comp Benefits in Spite of Underlying Injury, March 28, 2015, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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