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Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Law Firm

If a Pennsylvania worker dies from a work-related injury or illness, an eligible survivor can file a fatal claim petition.

Under Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation law, certain surviving family members who were financially dependent on a person who died from a work-related injury or illness will be eligible to receive money benefits to help replace the support they had been receiving from the deceased worker. The injury or illness that led to death must have arisen in the course of employment.

In a Pennsylvania death benefit case, also referred to as a fatal claim, the claimant must show that the employee had a work-related injury or illness that was a “substantial, contributing cause” of his or her death. The work injury or illness does not have to have been the only cause that contributed to the worker’s demise. If it is not obvious that the work injury or sickness were causally connected to the death, the claimant must submit “unequivocal medical evidence” of the connection.

To be a valid death claim, the death must have occurred within 300 weeks of the related work injury. If the death was from an occupational illness, the calculation of deadlines (and the determination of which employer is responsible for Workers’ Compensation in certain diseases) is quite complex and fact specific.

Certain circumstances could invalidate a death claim, including:

  • A death caused by employee intoxication
  • A death stemming from an employee intentionally harming him or herself (unless a suicide is caused by mental illness that is work related)
  • A death intentionally caused by a third party for personal reasons not related to work, even if on work premises
  • A death caused by a worker’s illegal activity

Determination under the law of which dependent survivors are eligible for death benefits is complicated and may include, depending on the family circumstances, the worker’s widow or widower, children, parents or siblings. For children or siblings of the deceased to be eligible, they must be minors or adults with disabling conditions. Children may also be eligible if they are full-time students until they turn 23.

Death-benefit payments to eligible survivors are based on the earnings level of the deceased worker, with certain limitations related to the average weekly wage within the commonwealth.

In addition, reasonable costs of burial up to $3,000 are paid directly to the provider of the services.

Not only may there be a valid fatal claim for eligible surviving dependents, but also the estate of the deceased worker may be able to file a claim for regular Workers’ Compensation benefits for the time between the work-related injury or illness and the death, assuming the worker was not already receiving them during this time when he or she was injured or ill, but still alive.

A survivor who believes he or she may be eligible for death benefits starts the process by filing a fatal claim petition. Consultation with an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney from the very beginning is a good idea for legal advice and guidance, as well as support. At a time of personal loss, it can be quite challenging to handle the stress alone, especially if the claim is denied and must be appealed. (Review of the denial is available through the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, and then, if necessary, by appeal to state court.)

Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyers can assist with forms, submissions and evidence gathering; communicate with the employer, insurer and state agency on behalf of the client; and advocate for the claimant every step of the way. The Workers’ Compensation lawyers at the Philadelphia law firm of Jeffrey S. Gross represent injured workers in Workers’ Compensation claims and survivors in death benefit cases. Call 1-215-512-1500 or contact us online today.