Everyone understands that the death of a loved one can have devastating financial consequences to the family. Many of the individuals who were killed on the job left behind a spouse and dependent children, or other relatives who relied on their income. North Carolina had 40 reported workplace fatalities in 2017 and 50 in 2016. Construction had the highest number of fatal accidents, followed by manufacturing.
The North Carolina Workers’ Compensation laws address these financial losses when a person is killed on the job in North Carolina. An employer or its insurance company must pay death benefits to the surviving spouse of the deceased worker and to the minor children of a deceased worker. The weekly death benefit payments last for 500 weeks from the date of the death. That is nearly 10 years. If a minor child has not yet reached age 18 when the 500 weeks end, then the minor child’s death benefit payment continues until that child reaches age 18. If a minor child reaches age 18 before the 500-week period ends, then the now-adult child continues to receive his or her share of the death benefits until the full 500 weeks are paid out.
The death benefit amount is a set amount based on two thirds of the deceased worker’s average weekly wage. This two-thirds amount is known as the compensation rate.
Bob Bollinger has handled many cases over the years for the surviving spouses or minor children of employees who have died in the course of their work. He has found that insurance companies often pay these claims without contesting responsibility for the death, but they will almost always want to have a court hearing to determine the proper recipients of the death benefits. That is understandable, as the insurance company does not want to pay one individual only to find out later that another individual, such as a minor child born to a previous spouse, is also entitled to the money, and then the company would have to pay out additional funds. So, when someone is killed on the job, the insurance company typically insists on a hearing to get an Industrial Commission court order directing the company to pay the correct individuals.
Another typical problem is that the average weekly wage is not calculated correctly, and therefore the compensation rate is not calculated correctly. This can happen in any case, but in a case for death benefits, it is particularly important to investigate this carefully because the person who was receiving the pay, the employee who was killed on the job, is no longer able to tell us whether or not the average weekly wage has been calculated correctly. So, we have to rely on pay stubs, bank statements and tax forms to sort this out.
Bob Bollinger handles these death benefit cases with a special fee arrangement, depending on the status of the claim. If the insurance company is not contesting its liability for the death claim itself, then Bob charges his clients by the hour rather than charging a 25 percent contingent fee. This results in a smaller legal fee paid out of the benefits, so it works to the benefit of the surviving spouse and minor children. All legal fees have to be approved by the Industrial Commission.
However, occasionally the on-job death will be contested as a compensable accident and in that case, Bob Bollinger charges the normal 25 percent contingent-fee to handle the case for the surviving spouse or dependent children. As with all other cases, the expenses of the litigation are also charged back to the client and need to be reimbursed at some point during the representation or when the case concludes.
In addition to the death benefits, the law provides for reimbursement of funeral expenses paid of up to $10,000.00. The person who is allowed to have this reimbursement is the one who actually paid the funeral expenses for the employee who was killed on the job.
If a family member has been killed on the job, you have our utmost sympathy. When you’re ready to discuss the situation with a lawyer, get in touch with Bob Bollinger. He will be happy to talk to you at no charge about your rights as a surviving spouse or the parent of a surviving minor child and give you advice as to what needs to be done to obtain the death benefits and funeral reimbursement allowed by the law. Please don’t hesitate to contact Bob.