If an employee dies on the job, the employer/insurer must report the injury to the Division of Workers’ Compensation within 30 days after knowledge of the injury. The Division will notify the dependent(s) about their rights under the law. If an employee's death has not been reported after 30 days of the injury, you may contact our Fraud and Noncompliance Unit for further information.
Upon the death of an employee who has suffered a compensable work injury, certain surviving individuals may become entitled to benefits. Survivors or successors can claim a benefit after the death of an employee:
- When the employee dies as a result of the work-related injury
- When the employee is still employable after the work related injury, but suffers a compensable permanent partial disability at work and subsequently dies from a cause unrelated to the work injury
- When the employee suffers permanent total disability from a work related injury and then dies from a cause unrelated to the work injury.
What Are The Benefits?
Employee Dies ON The Job: When the employee dies as a result of the work-related accident, the survivors (usually a surviving spouse and/or surviving dependent children) are entitled to weekly benefits from the employer/insurer. The weekly death benefit is paid at 66 2/3% of the deceased employee’s average weekly wage for the year immediately preceding the fatal accident, subject to a maximum set by law. The employer/insurer is also responsible for paying funeral expenses up to $5,000.00.
Employee Dies from a cause unrelated to the injury: When an employee dies from a cause unrelated to the work injury, the survivors are generally entitled to whatever accrued benefits the deceased employee was entitled. In most cases, this would be a lump sum payment for permanent partial disability. On January 9, 2007, the Missouri Supreme Court issued its decision in Schoemehl v. Treasurer of State, 217 S.W. 3d 900 (Mo. 2007). The Supreme Court ruled that, in certain circumstances survivors of a deceased employee eligible for weekly benefit payments for permanent total disability could continue to receive those weekly payments after the employee’s death. On June 26, 2008 the Governor signed House Bill 1883 that rejected and abrogated the Schoemehl case stating that the payment of permanent total disability benefits of an injured employee terminates on the date of the injured employee’s death. There is a class of cases that fall within the time period of January 9, 2007 through June 26, 2008, where a “dependent” could potentially claim benefits after the death of the employee based upon the Missouri Supreme Court’s holding in Schoemehl.
Cases involving the death of an employee from a cause unrelated a work injury can contain very complicated legal issues, and it is usually beneficial to have the assistance of a lawyer in such cases.
Related: Obtaining A Lawyer
Who Pays The Benefits?
The deceased employee’s employer and its workers’ compensation insurer are responsible for the payment of the benefits.
When the employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance, and the employee died as a result of the work-related accident, the Second Injury Fund is responsible for payment of the benefits. For more information about claiming benefits from the Second Injury Fund, please read How The Second Injury Fund Can Help You.
Related: How Second Injury Fund May Help
Who Gets the Benefits and How Long Do They Last?
Generally, those persons entitled to benefits are those persons described as “total dependents” in the law. “Total dependents” include a surviving spouse, as well as dependent children under the age of eighteen. There are provisions for continuation of benefits to a dependent child after the age of eighteen if the child is a full-time student, has served on active duty in the military, or is incapacitated from wage earning.
If there is more than one “total dependent”, the total dependents share the weekly benefit. When one total dependent is no longer eligible for benefits, the weekly benefit is not reduced, but the remaining dependents’ shares are adjusted.
A surviving spouse is entitled to a weekly benefit (or a share of a weekly benefit) for his or her lifetime or until he or she remarries. Upon remarriage, the surviving spouse will also receive a lump sum equal to two years of benefits.
A dependent child receives benefits until age eighteen, unless a full-time student, in which case the benefits continue until age 22 or until no longer a full-time student, whichever first occurs. If the dependent child is physically or mentally incapacitated from wage earning, the weekly benefit (or a share of the weekly benefit) may continue for life, unless and until he or she is no longer incapacitated.
If someone other than a surviving spouse or dependent child was partially dependent on the deceased employee, a claim may be made for partial dependency, but only if there are no total dependents. If there is at least one total dependent, there can be no claim made for partial dependency.
Although weekly benefits are the normal and preferred method of payment when the employee dies as a result of the work-related accident, the law does allow lump sum settlements in certain limited situations.
What Must Be Done to Claim Survivors’ Benefits?
Often the employer of the deceased employee or the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company will contact the family and begin paying benefits. If this has not happened, and you believe you are entitled to survivors’ benefits, contact the employer and the insurance company. You can also contact the DWC’s Dispute Management Unit.
In most cases, the survivor(s) should also file a Workers’ Compensation Claim for Compensation. It may be advisable to consult a lawyer before filing a claim.
Related: Obtaining A Lawyer
Can Survivors’ Benefits Be Denied or Reduced?
A claim involving the death of an employee is subject to the same rules as cases resulting in non-fatal injuries. The employer must be subject to the workers’ compensation law. The accident that caused the death must be a compensable accident under the law, meaning the work-related injury was the prevailing reason for the death. Penalties for safety violations or for use of alcohol or drugs may be an issue. There may also be disputes in regards to the employee’s average weekly wage and competing claims of dependency. These issues may need to be resolved by an evidentiary hearing (trial) before an administrative law judge. In any such situation, you should consult with a lawyer.
Related: Obtaining A Lawyer
Compensation Benefits For Certain Emergency Personnel Killed in the Line of Duty
Benefits are available for survivors of firefighters, volunteer firefighters, law enforcement officers, air ambulance pilots, air ambulance registered professional nurses, and emergency medical technicians who are killed in the line of duty when:
- The individual was on duty at the time of an injury that resulted in death;
- the individual was engaged in the active performance of the duties of his or her profession; and
- the injury resulting in death occurred as a result of the individual's performance of his or her duties.
A $25,000 death benefit shall be awarded to the estate of the individual killed in the line of duty. The death benefit is in addition to any other pension rights, death benefits, or other compensation to which the claimant may otherwise be entitled by law. To claim benefits, the estate of the deceased must file a Claim for Compensation with the Division within one year from the date of death.
Related: Obtaining A Lawyer
Kids' Chance of Missouri
Kids' Chance of Missouri is an organization that provides educational scholarships to children of workers seriously injured or killed in work-related accidents. The loss of a primary wage earner in the family may result in inadequate funds available for dependents to attain higher education goals and may lower the child's life earning capacity. From the Kids' Chance Scholarship Fund, scholarships based upon need enable children who may not otherwise attain further training to gain improved skills and education and improved career paths. For more information about Kids' Chance of Missouri, go to www.mokidschance.org.