Death Claim Series – What benefits are owed?

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Cranfill Sumner LLPOver the next several weeks I will be releasing a series of articles on North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Death Claims.  The articles will address the following five overarching issues:

  1. Whether the underlying accident or occupational disease is compensable.
  2. Whether the accident or occupational disease caused the resulting death.
  3. What benefits are owed?
  4. To whom are the benefits owed?
  5. How are the benefits to be distributed?

This article explores what benefits are owed in the event of a workers’ compensation accident or occupational disease that results in death.

North Carolina General Statute § 97-38 governs the benefits that are owed as the result of a death claim.  If death results proximately from a compensable injury or occupational disease, Defendants shall be responsible for:

  1. Authorized and related medical expenses.
  2. Burial expenses not to exceed $10,000.00.
  3. Weekly benefits for 500* weeks.

The weekly benefits are calculated the same way that temporary total disability benefits are calculated in a non-death claim.  The weekly payments of compensation are “equal to sixty-six and two-thirds percent (66 2/3%) of the average weekly wages of the deceased employee at the time of the accident.”

Just like with temporary total disability benefits, weekly death benefits have a minimum and a maximum amount threshold.  The benefits shall be “not more than the amount established annually to be effective October 1 as provided in G.S. 97-29, nor less than thirty dollars ($30.00), per week.”  Per the North Carolina Industrial Commission, the maximum compensation rate in 2021 is $1,102.00.  The maximum compensation rate in 2022 will be $1,184.00.

Although the default timeline for weekly benefits in a death claim is 500 weeks, this is subject to exceptions.

If a widow or widower of a deceased employee is unable to support her/himself because of physical or mental disability as of the date of the death of the deceased employee, compensation payments shall continue during her/his lifetime or until remarriage.

Additionally, if compensation payments are due to a dependent child, the payments shall be continued until such child reaches the age of 18, even if the time period extends beyond 500 weeks.  If a dependent child reaches the age of 18 prior to the 500 weeks elapsing, the benefits do not stop, but will continue until the 500-week cap is reached.

In the next edition of this series, I will analyze to whom these benefits are paid.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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