Death Benefits

Losing a loved one to an accident is one of the most tragic things that can happen to a family. Not only are you grieving a devastating loss, but you’re likely also feeling uncertain about your family’s financial future when you’ve lost an income. Many families these days depend on two incomes to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. When one income is suddenly gone, you may find yourself overwhelmed with worry about your finances.

If your loved one died in a work-related accident, Illinois provides a potential avenue for your family to get help. The Workers Compensation Act, 820 ILCS 305, allows for the surviving family members of a worker who died on the job to collect death benefits that can help keep your family’s finances intact in the aftermath of your loss.

Who Can Receive Death Benefits?

The purpose of workers compensation death benefits is to provide for the dependents of an employee who was killed in a work-related accident. In Illinois, there is an order to who can receive death benefits. A surviving spouse and minor children usually are at the top of that order and are the primary beneficiaries. If there is no surviving spouse or children, parents who were economic dependents of the person who was killed may be able to receive benefits. If there are no parents, then other people who were at least 50 percent dependent on the worker who died may be able to receive benefits.

When the beneficiary is a surviving spouse, the spouse can collect benefits until he or she remarries. If there are no children under age 18 at the time of the subsequent marriage, then the surviving spouse can get a one-time payment of two years’ worth of compensation and then benefits stop. If there are children under 18 in the household, benefits should continue.

Types of Benefits Available

In Illinois, there are two types of benefits that may be available to the dependents of a worker who died on the job.

  • Burial Benefits — The family of someone killed in a work-related accident may receive a benefit to cover funeral costs. The current benefit amount is $8,000.
  • Survivors Benefits — These benefits compensate you for a portion of the income your family has lost because of the work-related death of your family member. You may receive a payment of two-thirds of what your family member earned on an average weekly basis for the year preceding his or her death. Payments are subject to minimum and maximum thresholds, and if your benefits were the result of a decision by an arbitrator, you may be able to receive annual cost of living adjustments.

Third-Party Wrongful Death Claims

When you lose a loved one in a work-related accident that is caused by the negligence of someone outside of your family member’s employment, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against that outside person or persons in addition to seeking death benefits through the workers compensation system.

Workers compensation is a no-fault system, meaning that an employer or the employer’s workers compensation insurance must pay benefits regardless of who was at fault for the accident. The only requirement is that the accident happened in the course of the worker’s employment.

When a third party contributed to the cause of the accident, you may be able to seek compensation from that party (or parties) outside of the workers compensation system by submitting an insurance claim or filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Your claim against the third party would proceed in the civil court system, and you would have to prove that the third party was negligent in contributing to the death of your loved one.

If you are successful in a wrongful death claim, you may be able to receive compensation for your loss of economic support, loss of your relationship with your loved one, and your grief, sorrow, and mental suffering. If your loved one was not immediately killed in the job-related accident, you may be able to receive compensation of any medical bills incurred before his or her death, and any personal injury damages your loved one would have been able to seek if he or she had survived.

How a Lawyer Can Help

When you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, the last thing you should have to worry about is doing paperwork and filing claims. A  workers comp lawyer with experience handling cases involving fatal workplace accidents can help you through the process of making a claim for death benefits. Your attorney also can evaluate whether you might have a third-party wrongful death claim, and guide you through the process of pursuing compensation from the negligent party.