Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits Approved for Company President’s Survivors

Workers’ compensation laws vary from state-to-state, but workers’ compensation coverage is mandated by all companies of certain sizes in all but a few states.
Those that fail to meet this requirement are subject to a myriad of penalties and fines, and of course they are still responsible for paying when a worker is injured or killed on-the-job.

In North Carolina, all companies with three or more employees – including those who operate the corporation – must obtain this insurance coverage. The only exceptions are:

  • Certain railroad employees;
  • Casual employees (those not performing work pertaining to the regular course of company’s business);
  • Domestic servants employed by a household
  • Farm laborers with fewer than 10, non-seasonal farm laborers;
  • Federal government employees
  • Sellers of agricultural products for producers

An interesting case was heard recently by the Mississippi Supreme Court, in which the survivors of a former accounting firm president sought workers’ compensation death benefits after he died after his second stress-related stroke. However, the company didn’t have workers’ compensation insurance, even though it had more than five workers (the standard in Mississippi). But the other executives at the firm denied benefits because, they argued, it was the president’s job to secure workers’ compensation insurance, and he erroneously did not. Thus, his family shouldn’t be paid because it was by his own error no insurance had been obtained.

The administrative law judge and the workers’ compensation commission found there was sufficient evidence to support the conclusion decedent’s injuries were work-related and awarded death benefits to his wife and daughter.

On appeal, the circuit court agreed there was substantial evidence to support the conclusion the former company president’s death had been work-related. He returned to work just two weeks after suffering a major stroke and soon after resumed a full-time schedule of working from 8 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. each night.

Within under a year, he suffered a second stroke and died.It was determined decedent suffered from a great deal of stress caused by his job which in turn caused his high blood pressure which in turn caused him to suffer the strokes.

However, circuit court reversed on the issue of benefits, siding with defendants in the assertion that it was decedent’s job to secure workers’ compensation insurance for the whole firm, and he failed to do that.

The appeals court reversed, applying a section of law that allows members of partnerships to opt-out of workers’ compensation benefits. But decedent hadn’t opted out in writing, the court ruled, so he was entitled to benefits.

On appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court, the court affirmed the award of workers’ compensation, but found the appeals court had improperly applied the law. Decent could not have opted-out of coverage for workers’ compensation insurance because there was no insurance plan to opt-out of. However, because the company had more than five workers it was required to obtain workers’ compensation insurance and to provide benefits to workers if they are injured or become ill or die as a result of an accident or job-related condition. That meant the company could still be held responsible to provide those workers’ compensation death benefits to decedent’s family.

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

Additional Resources:
Harper v. Banks, Finley, White & Co. of Mississippi, P.C., July 2, 2015, Mississippi Suprem Court

More Blog Entries:
South Coast Framing v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Board – Death Benefits After Drug Overdose, June 3, 2015, Winston-Salem Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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