There is a grieving process you go through whenever someone you love dies. When that death is the result of a work related accident or disease, the grief is often compounded by the belief that the death or illness could have been prevented.
Paul Giannetti, Attorney at Law, understands how difficult a time like this is. If you were financially dependent on the relative who died, your grief is combined with stress as you wonder how you will now pay your bills.
Workers’ compensation is insurance that provides you some compensation for your loved one’s death if that death was caused by a work-related illness or injury. Whether or not you are entitled to death benefits depends on your relationship to the deceased, and whether or not you were financially dependent upon the decedent’s income.
Relatives Who May Be Eligible to Collect Death Benefits
Workers’ compensation provides death benefits for those who are related to the decedent in one of the following ways:
- The decedent’s spouse.
- The decedent’s child who is under the age of 18.
- A child of the decedent who is under the age of 23 if that child is enrolled full time in an accredited educational institution.
- A child of any age who was totally blind or permanently disabled at the time of the decedent’s death and who was financially dependent upon the decedent.
If the decedent has no dependents who fall into any of those categories, then the following may apply for workers’ compensation death benefits if they were financially dependent on the deceased worker and:
- Are the decedent’s grandchildren or siblings who are either under the age of 18, or under the age of 23 and a full-time student, or any age if the person was totally blind or permanently disabled at the time of the decedent’s death.
- The deceased worker’s financially dependent parents or grandparents.
If a person is eligible for death benefits, they must take certain steps and follow certain rules in order to collect those benefits from workers’ compensation.
How Survivors Can File for Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits
In order to file your claim for workers’ compensation benefits, you must file the State of New York Form C-62 (1-11) with the Workers’ Compensation Board. You also must give notice to the decedent’s employer that the employee, your loved one, has died.
The form requires you to provide the following information:
- The names and addresses of the decedent and his or her employer, the workers’ compensation insurance carrier, and your name as the claimant.
- Date of the death with the death certificate attached to the form.
- Detailed information about the date, time, and place of the accident or illness and how it was work related.
- Name of attending physician and hospital. You must also attach State of New York Workers’ Compensation Form C 64 (1-11). This requires a statement from the last treating physician confirming the cause of death was a work-related accident or illness.
You must provide supporting evidence of all those who are eligible to file for benefits. For example, if you are the spouse, you must provide a copy of your marriage license. If children are included as claimants, their birth certificates must be attached. Students under the age of 23 must provide documentation that they are enrolled full time in an accredited educational institution.
Others who qualify must also provide documentation of their relationship to the deceased and verification that they were dependent upon the deceased for support.
All information provided to the Workers’ Compensation Board must be completely accurate. If any person provides “any information containing any false material statement or conceals any material fact” on Form C-62, that person “shall be guilty of a crime and subject to substantial fines and imprisonment.”
Statute of Limitations
A claim for workers’ compensation death benefits must be made within two years of the worker’s death. If you let the deadline pass, you lose forever your right to file a claim no matter how desperately you may need and deserve compensation.
NY Workers’ Comp Death Benefits Can’t Be Reduced For Non-Work Injuries Causing Death
The highest court of New York has ruled: the state’s Workers’ Compensation Law does not demand apportionment of death benefits between work-related and non-work related causes of death. Simply put, a deceased employee’s survivors may be entitled to the full amount of death benefits, even if the death wasn’t solely caused by the work-related injury.
The underlying case involved the death of Antonio Hroncich, who was a plumber’s helper and mechanic for ConEd for 35 years. At the time of his retirement in 1993, Hroncich was diagnosed with asbestos and asbestos-related lung disease that resulted from his employment. He was classified by the Workers’ Compensation Board as permanently partially disabled and began receiving compensation checks of approximately $222 per week.
In 1999, Hroncich was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, unrelated to his employment at ConEd. The cancer eventually progressed to his lungs and he died in September 2007. His widow applied for death benefits from ConEd, who contested the claim.
An expert medical witness testified on behalf of the widow that Hroncich died of respiratory failure and that if his lungs hadn’t been already compromised by the work-related pulmonary disease, he probably would have lived longer. The physician noted that in his opinion, Hroncich’s death was 80% attributable to the cancer and 20% attributable to the work-related pulmonary disease.
ConEd argued that the death benefits should thus be apportioned since Hroncich’s death was overwhelmingly attributable to non-work related causes.
The workers’ compensation judge disagreed, ruling that Hroncich’s death was causally related to his occupational disease and that apportionment was not available.
This ruling was affirmed on appeal to the Workers’ Compensation Board and in appellate court. ConEd appealed to the New York Court of Appeal, the highest court in the state, arguing that an employee’s survivors would improperly receive a “windfall” at the expense of the employer if apportionment between the work-related and non-work related injury didn’t occur.
But the New York Court of Appel upheld the workers’ compensation judge and lower court’s rulings. It pointed out that “there is no language in the Workers’ Compensation Law to suggest that the Board should apportion death benefits to work-related and non-work-related causes when fashioning an award….the death benefit isn’t about replacing lost wages but rather compensates for a life lost at least partly because of work-related injury or disease.”
The Court went on to note that to the extent that the decision seemed unduly harsh to employers, it is the legislature that must resolve any perceived unfairness, not the courts.
An Albany Workers’ Compensation Attorney Can Help
The time after a loved one has died due to a work-related injury or illness is stressful. While going through the grieving process, those who were financially dependent on the deceased no longer have income to pay the bills that still keep coming in. There are also funeral expenses and there may be medical expenses related to the death.
You may know you can collect death benefits, but the paperwork involved, and the task of accumulating the necessary documentation can seem overwhelming. This is a time to contact workers’ compensation attorney Paul Giannetti for help. He offers a free consultation so you can tell him what you think you need and he can tell you what he can do to help.