Helping families understand their rights after the tragic loss of a loved one from an injury
or illness at work
Losing a loved one is an unspeakable tragedy, and the heartache is often compounded when the loss is the result of a workplace injury or illness. No family should have to navigate the aftermath of such a devastating event, but when the unthinkable occurs, it’s crucial to understand your rights in regard to the support that workers’ compensation can provide during this challenging time.
At Wilder Pantazis Law Group, our dedicated workers’ compensation attorneys are committed to standing with families after the untimely death of a loved one, offering compassionate guidance through the complexities of workers’ compensation law.
This page is designed to help you understand who is entitled to workers’ comp death benefits, the nature of these benefits, and how to claim what your loved one intended for your security and well-being. In this difficult hour, knowledge can be a source of strength, and our goal is to empower you with the information you need to make informed decisions for your family’s future.
How common are workplace fatalities in North Carolina?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2021 alone, 179 workers in North Carolina died from work-related injuries, illnesses or diseases. This is a slight decrease from 2020. Nationally, there were almost 5,200 work-related deaths in 2021, a 9% increase from the previous year.
Fatal injuries in the state have ranged from a high of 234 in 2000 to a low of 109 in 2003.
Which workers are most at risk of fatal work injuries?
In 2021, the vast majority of North Carolina worker deaths were men, accounting for 92% of all fatalities. The largest age group for work-related deaths were workers between 45 and 64 years old, making up 42% of workplace deaths.
What’s the most common cause of work fatalities?
In North Carolina, transportation accidents were the leading cause of work-related fatalities, with 62 deaths (35%) in 2021, which is a decrease from the previous year’s 75. Exposure to harmful substances was the second leading cause, with fatalities rising slightly to 38. Falls, slips and trips, as well as contact with objects and equipment, were also significant causes of workplace deaths in the state.
Who’s entitled to workers’ comp death benefits in NC?
In North Carolina, if a worker dies from a work-related injury, illness or disease within 6 years of getting hurt or sick at work or within 2 years of becoming disabled because of the injury or disease (whichever is later), the employer is required to provide death benefits to the people who depended on the worker’s income.
A spouse or child of a deceased employee is automatically considered “wholly dependent” on the employee for support and is entitled to full benefits under the workers’ compensation law.
Dependency status for others must be established based on the circumstances at the time of the accident, and dependents must have been so for at least 3 months prior to the accident to qualify for compensation.
The death benefit is shared equally among all wholly dependent persons, with no share for partially dependent persons if there are full dependents. If there are only partially dependent persons, the benefit is distributed based on the level of each one’s dependency.
What if a deceased worker had no dependents?
If a worker who passes away has no whole or partial dependents, the money meant for the dependents goes to the “next of kin” (or closest family members) as a one-time lump-sum payment. If there are no family members as defined by the law, then the only payment made by the employer is for the funeral costs up to $10,000.
Who is considered next of kin?
For the purpose of workers’ comp death benefits, “next of kin” includes the deceased employee’s children (including adults), parents, and siblings (including adult siblings), with the exception of a parent who abandoned their child and did not resume responsibility for at least a year before the child’s death or reaching adulthood.
What benefits are paid in the event of the death of a worker?
In North Carolina, dependents of a deceased employee are eligible for workers’ compensation death benefits, which include $10,000 for burial expenses as well as payments for income replacement.
Here’s how the income replacement payments generally work:
- Amount of payments. Dependents will receive weekly payments amounting to two-thirds of the deceased employee’s average weekly wages at the time of the accident. This percentage aims to help cover the loss of financial support caused by the worker’s death. These weekly benefits are subject to a cap based on the maximum amount set annually; however, even if the deceased’s earnings were low, the weekly payment will not be less than $30.
- Commencement of payments. If the deceased had been receiving payments for an injury before death, the death benefits to the dependents start from the date of the last injury compensation payment.
- Duration of payments. The weekly compensation is typically paid for a period of 500 weeks from the date of the employee’s death.
- Extended benefits. After the initial 500-week period, a widow or widower who cannot support themselves due to a disability at the time of the employee’s death will continue to receive benefits for life or until they remarry. Additionally, benefits for a dependent child continue until the child turns 18.
The exact amounts can vary year to year based on the state’s annually determined maximum limits, and individual circumstances can affect how these benefits are calculated and distributed.
What do I need to do to start the process of collecting workers’ comp death benefits?
To initiate the process of collecting workers’ compensation death benefits in North Carolina, you’ll need to take certain steps.
First, you’ll need to officially notify the employer of the worker’s death. In most cases, you’re required to inform them in writing, ideally within 30 days.
Next, you’ll need to complete and file Form 18 with the North Carolina Industrial Commission. The employer will then be required to submit their own forms.
You will also need to obtain and provide a copy of the following:
- The death certificate
- Proof of your relationship to the deceased (e.g., marriage certificate for a spouse, birth certificates for dependent children)
- Proof of financial dependency on the deceased employee (if required)
You should also be sure to keep all receipts and documentation related to funeral expenses, as these are reimbursable up to the allowed amount under the law.
If there are any disputes or if the claim is denied, you may need to request a hearing before the Industrial Commission for a resolution. In such cases, you should consider consulting with a workers’ compensation attorney to help guide you through the process and ensure your rights are protected.
What is the lump-sum death payment?
A lump-sum death payment refers to a one-time payment made to the beneficiaries or eligible survivors of a deceased individual instead of ongoing benefits. In the context of workers’ compensation, it typically means the total present value of what would have been paid over time to a dependent is instead paid all at once to the eligible next of kin or other entitled individuals when there are no dependents.
For instance, in the North Carolina workers’ compensation laws described previously, if an employee dies without leaving any whole or partial dependents, the compensation intended for those dependents can be commuted—meaning converted into a single lump-sum amount—and paid out to the next of kin as defined by the law.
The calculation of this lump sum is based on the present value of the total benefits that dependents would have received over the course of the benefit period, which might otherwise have been paid out in weekly installments.
What is the highest amount allotted for funeral expenses under workers’ compensation benefits?
Under North Carolina workers’ compensation law, the maximum compensation you can receive for funeral expenses after the death of a family member due to a work-related injury or illness is $10,000.
Are employee death benefits taxable?
No, in North Carolina, workers’ compensation death benefits are not subject to federal or state income tax. This means that when families receive these benefits after the loss of a loved one due to a workplace incident, the amount received is not decreased by taxes.
Contact an experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney for help
If you’ve recently experienced the profound loss of a loved one due to a workplace accident, please know that you’re not alone during this difficult time. If you have questions or need assistance with the process of obtaining workers’ compensation death benefits, the knowledgeable work injury attorneys at Wilder Pantazis Law Group are here to help.
We provide free consultations to families to help you understand your rights and the benefits you may be entitled to without any upfront cost or obligation, so please feel free to reach out if you need assistance.
Fatal Occupational Injuries in North Carolina — 2021 : Southeast Information Office : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (n.d.). Www.bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/regions/southeast/news-release/fatalworkinjuries_northcarolina.htm
N.C. Industrial Commission Home Page. (n.d.). www.ic.nc.gov. Retrieved November 3, 2023, from https://www.ic.nc.gov/index.html