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Workers' compensation death claims: What you should know

When a worker in California dies due to his or her work-related injuries, survivors who were financially dependent on that worker are often able to file what's known as a "death claim."

Learn more about who is eligible to file these types of claims and the death benefits available.

Eligibility to file

Every state has its own rules for workers' compensation. California recognizes both total dependents (those who relied entirely on the deceased worker for their financial needs) and partial dependents (those who only relied somewhat on the deceased for their financial needs).

Total dependents include:

  • Minor children
  • A child of any age who is mentally or physically incapable of earning a living
  • Spouses with little or no income of their own

Other people may qualify as partial dependents depending on their circumstances:

  • They had to be related to the deceased by blood, marriage or adoption
  • They had to be part of the deceased's household when he or she died
  • They must have depended on the deceased for at least some financial support

Often, this category will include elderly parents who lived with the deceased at the time of his or her death and siblings who were mentally or physically impaired. Their entitlement is limited, however, by how many full dependents are eligible for benefits.

What death benefits are available?

The exact amount of death benefits available to the deceased's survivors depends on the number of total and partial dependents being paid. For example, since late 2013, burial expenses are generally fixed at $10,000. A single dependent -- like a spouse or only child -- would be eligible for $250,000, paid out over a period of time just like weekly workers' compensation would have been paid for the deceased had he or she lived. Two total dependents, like a spouse and a minor child, would receive $290,000.

It's also important to note that minor children will continue to receive weekly checks even after the initial death benefit amount has been exhausted. Children who disabled will receive a weekly check until they are either able to earn a living on their own or die.

It's also important to understand that claims for death benefits are only able to be filed in the first year after the workers' death. That's a fairly short window -- which makes it important to consult with a workers' compensation attorney promptly about your rights.

Source: leginfo.legislature.ca.gov, "Labor Code Division 4. Workers' Compensation and Insurance (3200-60020," accessed Oct. 27, 2017

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