New York workers’ compensation death benefit law is elaborate and intricate.
While most people are familiar with the right to receive workers' compensation payments for work-related injury and occupational diseases, many are not aware that New York workers' compensation law also provides benefits for certain survivors of deceased workers. Death benefits are normally available when a worker dies after either sustaining a fatal work-related injury or succumbing to an occupational illness.
The law that controls which survivors are eligible for death benefits is extremely complex in New York. A surviving spouse, minor children, children under 23 in college and adult disabled dependent children are normally eligible for death benefits in the form of weekly payments if a worker dies as the result of a compensable injury.
A surviving spouse is not eligible if he or she had abandoned or was divorced from the worker. If a surviving eligible spouse remarries, he or she normally receives two years of benefits in a lump sum payment and ongoing payments cease.
Total death benefits paid out are usually two-thirds of what the worker's average weekly wage had been for the previous year, subject to a minimum threshold and maximum cap. (There may be a reduction in payment to a surviving spouse if he or she is also receiving survivors' benefits under the federal Social Security Act.)
The death benefit payment is split among these closest survivors according to complicated formulas set out in the statute. The awarded proportions can change when someone in the group loses eligibility, redistributing the money among those still eligible.
If there is no surviving husband or wife or eligible children, other dependent relatives may be eligible for the death payments. Those relatives may include dependent, minor, college student or disabled grandchildren or siblings; and dependent grandparents and parents of the deceased worker in certain circumstances. If no spouse, child, sibling or grandchild is entitled to a death benefit, the workers' parents or the workers' estate may be eligible to receive a $50,000 payment.
Other potential death-related benefits under New York workers' compensation law include:
- Benefits may also be available to certain survivors of workers who had been receiving workers' compensation benefits for permanent partial disability even if they died from unrelated causes.
- Benefits accrued to a living worker but not yet paid that still remain unpaid after his or her death may be paid to certain survivors according to law.
- Even if no one is eligible for a death benefit, New York workers' compensation law provides for the funeral expenses of an eligible deceased worker to be reimbursed to anyone who had paid them or to the funeral provider directly. According to the state Workers' Compensation Board website, at the time of this writing covered funeral expenses are capped at $6,000 for New York metro counties and at $5,000 in all others.
Seek legal counsel
This article only provides an introduction to a complicated area of New York workers' compensation law.
Whenever a worker dies from a work-related injury or illness, or while receiving benefits for a previous injury, his or her surviving spouse or other close relative should speak as soon as possible to an attorney who represents claimants and their families in workers' compensation matters. A lawyer can advise the survivor about what benefits may be available under the particular circumstances of the deceased worker's injury or illness, and death. Legal counsel can also assist with workers' compensation applications, requests for review and appeals.
The lawyers of Angiuli & Gentile, LLP, in Staten Island represent clients in workers' compensation claims in the area and across New York State.