PA Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits

What Compensation is Available After a Family Member’s Wrongful Death?

The mother of a three-year-old recently filed a wrongful death claim after a helicopter crash in Pennsylvania killed the child and three other passengers, including the child’s father. Crystal McKain requested more than $550,000 in damages from Hampton Roads Charter Service, stating the 30-year-old pilot was improperly trained. She claims he was not certified for instrument-only flights and was not briefed on the weather before taking off.

A family member’s death takes an emotional toll on everyone involved, and the loss is often devastating when it could have been prevented. Wrongful death claims can be filed for damages if someone else’s negligence caused the death or the accident that resulted in death. However, there are two types of suits you can bring, and each one warrants different causes of action.

In Pennsylvania, workers’ compensation benefits are paid out in a weekly schedule to employees who have sustained an injury or developed a chronic illness related to their working conditions. Under the most tragic of circumstances, however, the Commonwealth provides death benefits to widows, widowers and children of workers who died as a result of an accident or incident on the job. The money will never replace a loved one, but it can help ease financial burdens in the immediate aftermath and in the future.

Wrongful death

Wrongful death claims are filed to compensate surviving family members for the financial and emotional losses they suffered by losing a loved one. Damages sought in a wrongful death claim include:

  • Loss of decedent’s income
  • Loss of emotional support and care
  • Medical and funeral expenses
  • Loss of companionship, guidance, love and sexual relationship

Survival action

Survival actions are brought by a personal representative of the decedent’s estate to compensate for what the decedent suffered after the accident before their passing. Therefore, this action is brought on behalf of the decedent and collects damages the decedent could have been awarded, had they survived, such as pain and suffering due to injury. The records of first responders and hospital reports are often crucial evidence used to determine how long the decedent survived and remained conscious following the accident.

How are Death Benefits Calculated?

Under Pennsylvania law, death weekly death benefits and a lump-sum payment of no more than $3000 for burial expenses may be awarded to:

  • Spouses
  • Minor children, including stepchildren
  • Adult children under the age of 23 who are enrolled in some kind of accredited program
  • Adult children classified as disabled
  • Parents or siblings, under certain circumstances

The benefits are awarded based on how many children there are, and how much money the worker made. The amount cannot be in excess of the average Pennsylvania wage. The breakdown looks like this:

  • Widow or widower without children: 51% of weekly wage
    • With one child: 60% of weekly wage
    • With two or more children: 66 2/3% of weekly wage
  • Orphaned child: 32% of weekly wage
    • Two children: 42% of weekly wage
    • Three children: 52% of weekly wage
    • Four children: 62% of weekly wage
    • Five children: 64% of weekly wage
    • Six or more children: 66 2/3% of weekly wage

Parents or siblings who were partially or totally dependent upon the worker may also be entitled to collect death benefits in varying percentages. In general, death benefits cannot be collected indefinitely, and the amount of weeks a dependent can collect will be set from the beginning, so that you know exactly how much compensation you are entitled to collect, and for how long.

When a Worker Dies in a Workplace Accident, Is It a Workers’ Compensation or Wrongful Death Claim?

But what happens when the employee’s death is clearly the result of negligence or recklessness on the part of the employer? By law employees are generally prohibited from suing their employers after a workplace accident. Workers’ compensation is designed to be a no-fault system which allows injured or sick workers to get compensation for a workplace injury without the need to hire attorneys and file lawsuits. If a worker’s death is caused by the employer’s gross negligence or misconduct, or the fault can be placed with a third party, the employee’s dependents might be able to file a wrongful death claim.

If some or all of the fault for the death of the employee can be placed on a third party such as the manufacturer of a defective piece of equipment, the reckless driver that caused the crash, the negligent security on a client site, etc., a skilled Philadelphia personal injury attorney may be able to recover compensation on their client’s behalf. Often, the proceeds of a successful wrongful death claim will exceed what the family might receive from the workers’ compensation death benefit. The employer’s insurer will likely place a lien on the proceeds of the lawsuit to recover what they paid out on the wrongful death claim, but the family members will be able to keep the remaining balance.

In cases where the family files a wrongful death claim which is denied by the employer, they are then free to file a wrongful death lawsuit based on the loss the surviving family members have experienced as a result of the decedent’s death. The spouse and children of the deceased may receive compensation for things such as final medical expenses, funeral expenses, loss of income, loss of consortium and companionship and pain and suffering.

If you are unsure whether or not you are entitled to death benefits, an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you review your claim and answer any questions you have. At Larry Pitt & Associates, we work with grieving families in a safe environment to help them obtain the compensation they are due when their spouse or parent is fatally injured.

We know that this is a difficult time and that you may have questions later on in the process that you did not think to ask when you started. We promise to respect your time and your circumstances, and offer you compassionate counsel when you need it.

Who is Eligible for Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits?

The loss of a spouse, parent, or adult child is devastating to loved ones left behind, but for those that were dependent upon the wages earned by the deceased, their grief can be compounded by financial hardship. Pennsylvania workers’ compensation death benefits provide much needed compensation to dependent family members of workers that suffer fatal injuries. Eligibility requirements determine who receives this compensation and how much they are entitled to receive.

  • Spousal Benefit: The spouse of the deceased worker with no children can claim 51 percent of the worker’s average weekly salary. A spouse with one dependent child is entitled to 60 percent of the deceased’s salary, and 66 2/3 percent of the salary if there are two or more dependent children. The spousal benefit continues until death or remarriage.
  • Dependent Child Benefit: For workers with children, the workers’ compensation benefit depends on several factors. If the worker had a spouse and children with a different guardian, then the spouse and child share the 60 percent benefit. If there is a spouse and more than one child with a different guardian, the spouse receives 33 1/3 percent and the children share 33 1/3 percent of the benefit. If the deceased has children but no spouse, the guardian of the children receives between 42 percent and 66 2/3 percent of the worker’s salary, depending on the number of children that were dependent upon the deceased. The dependent child benefit continues until the age of 18, or throughout the life of a disabled child. Full-time students can continue benefits up until 23 years of age.
  • Dependent Parent Benefit: When there is no spouse or no children left behind, the parent of the deceased worker that relied partially on the financial contributions of their child can claim 32 percent of the worker’s salary. If the parent was totally dependent on the worker’s wages, they can receive 52 percent. Parental benefits continue until the parent’s death.
  • Dependent Siblings: When there are no dependent spouses, children, or parents of the deceased worker, a dependent sibling can claim 22 percent of the deceased worker’s wages. If there is more than one dependent sibling, five percent is added to each claim with a maximum claim amount of 32 percent per sibling.

Funeral Benefits

Pennsylvania workers’ compensation benefits provide financial assistance toward the funeral costs for workers suffering a fatal work-related injury or Illness. The funeral death benefit in Pennsylvania is capped at $3,000 for what are considered reasonable funeral expenses. Reasonable funeral expenses include a casket, burial plot, and embalming or cremation services. Flowers, post funeral lunches, and limousine transportation are not considered reasonable expenses under the funeral benefit.

If You are Entitled to Death Benefits Stemming From the Loss of Your Family Member, Larry Pitt & Associates Can Help

The loss your family member is always tragic. At Larry Pitt & Associates, we do what we can to help you through these challenging times, and to ease the financial burden you may now face because of the unexpected loss. To schedule a free consultation with a dedicated Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyer at our firm, please call 888-PITT-LAW or fill out our contact form. We proudly serve Berks County, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County and Philadelphia County.

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