Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits in California
If you depended financially on a family member who died as a result of a work-related injury or illness you may be able to collect what are known as “death benefits” under California workers’ compensation system. These benefits are intended to help compensate the survivors for the loss of financial support from the deceased employee. In addition to death benefits, the employer (or its insurance company) must pay an amount for burial expenses.
What Types of Worker’s Compensation Death Benefits Are Available?
Death benefits are payments to a spouse, children or other dependents if an employee dies from a work-related injury or illness.
This includes reasonable burial expenses, not exceeding $5,000 for injuries before Jan. 1, 2013 and $10,000 for injures on or after Jan. 1, 2013.
The amount of the death benefit depends on the number of total and/or partial dependents. In the case of one or more totally dependent minors, after payment of amounts specified below, death benefits will continue until youngest minor’s 18th birthday (disabled minors receive benefits for life).
Death benefits are paid at the total temporary disability rate, but not less than $224.00 per week. The period within which to commence proceedings for the collection of death benefits is one year from death where death occurs within one year of date of injury (DOI); or one year from date of last furnishing of any benefits or one year from death where death occurs more than one year from DOI. No such proceedings may be commenced more than 240 weeks from the DOI.
For injuries on or after Jan. 1, 2013, death benefits include burial expenses in the amount of $10,000 and for one total dependent in the amount of $250,000, two or more total dependents in the amount of $290,000, or three or more total dependents in the amount of $320,000.
Who Is Entitled to Worker’s Compensation Death Benefits in California?
You may be eligible for death benefits if you were totally or partially dependent on the deceased employee for your financial support at the time of the injury, and you were either a member of the employee’s household or were the employee’s close relative. Qualifying relatives include:
- children (including step- and adopted children)
- parents and siblings (including in-laws)
- aunts and uncles, and
- nieces and nephews.
Certain family members are automatically considered total dependents of the employee:
- children under the age of 18
- adult children who are unable to earn a living because they’re physically or mentally incapacitated, and
- a surviving spouse who earned $30,000 or less in the 12 months before the employee’s death.
Other family or household members (including spouses who earned more than $30,000) will have to provide evidence that they were totally or partially dependent on the deceased employee. For example, an elderly father could qualify as a total dependent if he could show that he’d been living with his son (the deceased employee) at the time of the injury, and that his son had paid for the father’s food, clothing, and other living expenses. (Cal. Labor Code §§ 3501-3503 (2020).)
How Much Do Dependents Receive?
Total dependents are those family members who totally depended on the worker for care and financial support. Certain family members of the deceased worker are automatically considered total dependents. These include children of the worker under the age of eighteen, as well as children of any age who are physically or mentally handicapped and are unable to earn a living. In addition, the worker’s spouse is considered a total dependent if he or she earned less than $30,000 per year in the 12 months prior to the worker’s death.
Other members of a worker’s family will be considered total dependents on a individual basis. If the person was a full-time member of the worker’s household, or was related to worker by blood, marriage or adoption, and relied on the worker for full financial support, they will be considered a total dependent.
The total amount of death benefits depends on the number of eligible dependents. If the injury that led to the employee’s death happened after 2005, the amounts for those who were totally dependent on the employee are:
- $250,000 for one total dependent
- $290,000 for two total dependents, or
- $320,000 for three or more total dependents.
If there are two or more total dependents, the amount of the death benefit will be equally split between them.
Partial dependents are those family members who partially depended on the worker for care and financial support. In general, any member of the deceased worker’s family who is not a total dependent will be considered a partial dependent, as long as they relied on the worker for a percentage of their total financial support. For example, if a worker’s spouse earned more than $30,000 in the 12 months prior to the worker’s death, they would be considered a partial dependent.
Partial dependents may also receive benefits, but only if there was no more than one total dependent. If there weren’t any total dependents, the partial dependents will split an amount that’s eight times what they had received in annual support from the deceased employee, up to a maximum of $250,000.
If there was one total dependent, that person will still receive the full $250,000, while the partial dependents will receive four times the amount of their annual support up to a total of $290,000. When there are multiple partial dependents, the total benefit will be divided between them in proportion to the extent of their dependency on the deceased employee.
How Are Death Benefits Paid?
In fatal injuries, individuals who are financially dependent on the worker are eligible for death benefits. The amount is based on the date of injury and the number of dependents.
Death benefits are typically paid in installments, in the same manner and weekly amount as temporary total disability benefits, but not less than $224 per week. California Work Injury Law Center can advocate on your behalf and obtain death benefits on your behalf.
When and How to File for Death Benefits in California
In order to properly file for death benefits, please contact California Work Injury Law Center as there is a statute of limitations. At the latest, surviving dependents must file a claim for death benefits within a year after the employee died as a result of the work-related injury or illness, and no more than 240 weeks after the injury itself.
If the employer has had to pay certain types of compensation related to its misconduct (and the death came more than a year after the injury), the filing deadline is one year after the last payment date for that compensation. (Cal. Labor Code § 5406 (2020).)