coffin with white flowers on topUnfortunately, workers in New Jersey can suffer catastrophic injuries or an occupational disease that ends in their death. Besides dealing with the tragedy of losing their loved one, the worker’s family must also struggle with the financial challenges of losing the person’s income that was vital to paying the monthly living expenses and bills. New Jersey’s workers’ compensation can help these families by providing death benefits to the workers’ dependents.

If you are in this tragic situation, you might assume that making a claim for these benefits will be straightforward, especially if your spouse’s accident or occupational illness, like cancer or a serious respiratory disease, clearly caused his death. Sadly, many employers and their insurance companies value money over doing what is right, and you could find yourself in a fight over whether you qualify for these benefits. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can take on the battle of obtaining the benefits you deserve, so you can focus on your grief and helping your children handle the loss of their parent.

Who Is Eligible for Death Benefits?

When a worker dies from a workplace accident or occupational illness, New Jersey’s workers’ compensation can provide death benefits to his dependents. Under New Jersey law, the following are considered dependents of the deceased worker:

  • A surviving spouse and dependent children who lived in the worker’s household at the time of his death are presumed to be dependents.
  • A surviving spouse and dependent children who were not living in the worker’s household at his death, or others claiming to be dependents, such as parents, brothers, and sisters, must prove their dependency to qualify for benefits.
  • Children are considered dependents until they reach 18 years of age or, if they are full-time students, until they reach 23 years of age.
  • A dependent child who is physically or mentally disabled could be entitled to additional benefits.
  • A civil union partner could qualify for death benefits.

There are situations when a dependent may not be entitled to death benefits. These potentially include the following situations:

  • The surviving spouse remarries. However, if the surviving spouse did not have dependent children at the time of the marriage, she may be eligible for benefits for up to two years. Other rules could also apply.
  • The surviving spouse deserted the worker more than a year before the start of his workplace injury or occupational disease.
  • The surviving spouse deserted the worker after the workplace accident or start of the worker’s disability.
  • The surviving spouse and worker married after the date of the accident.
  • If the worker’s death was caused by an occupational disease, no death benefits will be provided if the person became a dependent of the worker after the onset of the worker’s illness. This exception does not apply to dependent children born after the worker became ill with an occupational disease.

What Death Benefits Are Dependents Entitled To?

Death benefit payments include payment of approved medical bills and up to $3,500 for funeral expenses. Funeral expenses would be paid to the person responsible for paying for the funeral or to the deceased worker’s estate. Weekly death benefits are based on the worker’s wages and the number of dependents he had. The following rules apply:

  • For one dependent, the compensation rate is 50 percent of the deceased worker’s wages.
  • The compensation rate increases by five percent for each additional dependent for a maximum weekly payment of 70 percent of the worker’s wages for five or more dependents.
  • A surviving spouse is entitled to weekly payments for 450 weeks unless she dies or remarries. Special rules could apply if the spouse remarries.
  • Dependent children could be entitled to benefits until they reach 18 years old or 23 years old if they are full-time students.
  • Mentally or physically disabled children could be entitled to benefits for 450 weeks.
  • The Commission of Labor sets a maximum weekly payment each year. In 2016, this amount is $871.
  • A New Jersey workers’ compensation judge will decide how the death benefits should be divided among the deceased worker’s dependents after making a determination as to who his dependents are.

The rules regarding death benefits for dependents is complicated, and you need an experienced worker’s compensation attorney to help you calculate the benefits you are entitled to. If you are a dependent of a worker who died due to a workplace injury or illness, order my free book, What the Injured Worker Needs to Know, to start learning about your rights and then start an online chat to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

Manfred Ricciardelli
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Morristown Workers' Compensation Lawyer