Industrial worksites can be incredibly dangerous. Heavy machinery can pose a serious threat to worker health and safety. While accidents don’t happen every day, they are particularly devastating when they do occur. A recent industrial workplace accident in Orange County claimed the life of an 18-year-old man. According to reports, the young employee became entangled in clay-mixing equipment. The force of the machine killed him before he could be rescued by his co-workers.

You expect your loved ones to come home from work, even if they have dangerous jobs. This young man’s family is likely stricken with grief and shock. While money will not bring their loved one back, it can help to make the best of a very difficult time in their lives. The family may have at least two options for recovering compensation: workers compensation benefits and/or a wrongful death lawsuit.

Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits

Employers in California are generally required to purchase and carry workers’ compensation insurance. This policy can be used to pay for costs that are associated with an employee’s work-related injury or illness. The benefits are typically used to cover medical expenses, lost wages, and disability.

What happens when an employee is killed because of an on-the-job accident or illness? In these situations, families may be entitled to recover workers’ compensation death benefits. These benefits typically include (a) funeral and burial costs and (b) cash compensation for the victim’s dependent(s).

Who Can Get Workers Compensation Death Benefits?

Workers compensation death benefits can be paid to family members who were partially or totally dependent on the deceased employee.

Total dependents include:

  • Minor children
  • Spouses earning less than $30,000 in the year before the employee’s death; and
  • Physically and/or mentally incapacitated adult children unable to support themselves.

Total dependents are first in line to receive workers’ compensation death benefits.

Other family members who may be entitled to receive workers’ compensation death benefits include:

  • Adult children
  • Grandchildren
  • Spouses earning more than $30,000 in the year before the employee’s death
  • Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • In-laws
  • Nieces
  • Nephews
  • Aunts, and
  • Uncles.

These individuals must prove that they were partially or totally financially dependent on the deceased employee before his or her death. Whether or not a person is a dependent is a challenging question. It’s important to provide as much information as possible to not only prove dependency, but also to establish a level of dependency. The more dependent you were on the victim, the more money you’ll be entitled to receive.

How Are Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits Calculated?

In California, family members of a deceased employee may be able to recover the workers’ compensation death benefits. These benefits can include a maximum of:

  • $320,000 to the worker’s dependents, and
  • $10,000 for funeral and burial costs.

How much each dependent receives will vary. Important factors in this calculation will include (a) the number of total dependents, (b) the number of partial dependents, and (c) the level of support received from the deceased employee. Maximum benefits for total dependents include:

  • One Total Dependent: $250,000
  • Two Total Dependents: $145,000 (each)
  • Three + Total Dependents: $107,000 (each).

When there is one total dependent, partial dependents can each be entitled to $25,000. When there are no total dependents, partial dependents can receive up to $250,000. Partial dependents cannot recover benefits if there are two or more total dependents.

Recovering Workers’ Compensation Benefits Waives the Right to Sue an Employer

As a general rule of thumb, you will waive your right to file a personal injury lawsuit against an employer if you opt to collect workers’ compensation benefits. This means that a family can’t sue an employer if they want to recover death benefits from the employer’s workers’ compensation policy. However, families are not prohibited from all civil legal action. The family could file a personal injury lawsuit against:

  • An employer, if their conduct was reckless or intentionally harmed the employee; or
  • A negligent third party.

For a moment, let’s say that the clay mixing machine involved in the tragic Santa Ana workplace accident malfunctioned. This malfunction was caused by a defect in the machine itself. The family may have the grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit against the company that designed, manufactured, or sold that piece of industrial equipment. Companies can be held strictly liable for harm caused by defects or dangers inherent in their products. The fact that the family also recovered workers’ compensation benefits wouldn’t bar them from filing a lawsuit against this third party.

Have you or someone you love been injured on the job in Orange County? Contact the Law Offices of John Rapillo to schedule a free consultation and learn about your legal options. We’re here to help you get the money you deserve after an accident. Call today to learn more.