In this article, we will examine some of the very basic ideas relating to North Carolina Workers Compensation Death Benefits. This is part 1 of a 2 part article
Please note that the subject of reception of death benefits can be a very complex subject, depending on a variety of factors, including a specific type of calculation of present value, the types of dependents, if any, who survive the deceased worker, the family relationship, and numerous other factors.
Here, we will delve into a few of the very basic ideas.
If someone has been injured on the job, and later, dies, the first and most important question to ask is whether or not they died from injuries related to their accident on the job come on or whether they died from unrelated causes. “Unrelated causes” means something that had nothing to do with their injury on the job such as, for instance, someone who suffers a severe leg injury on the job, and later dies of a heart attack.
What you basically see from the statutory scheme is that in many cases, even if the employee has a very severe injury, was receiving benefits, and even if they were in negotiation to settle their claim for a large sum of money, if they die from unrelated causes before resolving the case, there may be very little, if anything, left for the surviving family, even if the family consists of a wife, or husband, and small children.
If someone dies from unrelated causes, then their benefits are governed by North Carolina General statute section 97-37. In that circumstance, the only remaining compensation that the surviving dependents or next of kin would be entitled to would be remaining unpaid benefits. This would typically be in the form of remaining unpaid amounts on partial disability ratings of body parts under NCGS 97-31.
Let’s take a quick example. Let’s take the example above of a severe leg injury. That person is eventually released by their physician, and the doctor says the person has reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) and gives the injured employee a 50% impairment of the right lower extremity. According to the schedule of injuries in the North Carolina Worker’s Compensation Act, specifically, at NCGS 97-31 (15), the maximum available for a disability rating for total loss of the leg is 200 weeks. Therefore, because it was a 50% impairment rating, that person would be entitled to 50%, or in this case, one half of the total allotted rating for loss of a leg, under 97-31 (15), or 100 weeks of compensation.
Now, let’s assume that after reaching maximum medical improvement (MMI), the employee, because of his or her ongoing work restrictions as set forth by the doctor, is unable to find a job. He or she is paid 50 weeks of temporary total disability while they continue to look for work within their restrictions.
Then, the injured employee dies from causes unrelated to his or her injury on the job.
That would leave 50 accrued, but unpaid weeks of compensation benefits which remain outstanding time of the employee’s death from unrelated causes.
In this scenario, those 50 weeks would be all that the dependents are entitled to.
If the death results from compensable injury or occupational disease, and that death occurs within six years of the accident or diagnosis of said disease, or within two years of the final determination of disability, whichever is later, then the compensation amount is 400 weeks from the date of death of the employee. There is also burial expenses not to exceed $3500.00. If the employee was already getting compensation before they died, the 400 weeks of benefits still begin from the date of death if the death is related to the compensable injury.
Compensation to certain dependents can actually continue for much longer than 400 weeks (about 7.7 years) in some instances, as we shall see.
The unusual part of the statute really deals with who is entitled to receive the benefits after the death of the injured employee. What you basically see from the statute is that because you are dealing with workers compensation, the legislature wanted to continue the income not just for those who would inherit from the deceased worker because of their kinship to the worker, but rather, they wanted to provide for those who were being supported by the deceased worker and who were relying on their support at the time of the accident.
This is very different from the wrongful death and intestate succession statutes, which merely rely on marriage and kinship.
The statute particularly favors those who were wholly dependent on the deceased at the time of the accident. The courts have interpreted the statute to mean that the recipients’ share of benefits is fixed as of the date of death of the employee.
In Part 2 of this article, we will examine who the potential beneficiaries are under this statutory scheme–in other words, who gets the money once the worker dies, the definitions applicable to those folks, and who can get benefits in excess of the 400 weeks set forth in the statute.
If you have suffered a work accident, contact Joe Miller Law in Elizabeth City, NC, and Norfolk, Va, where attorney Joseph Miller, Esq has been representing injured North Carolina workers for over 20 years. Call us toll-free 888-694-7994 or send us an e-mail for a FREE, no commitment discussion of your case.