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When a worker is killed on the job, workers’ comp death benefits are often available to a surviving spouse, children, or other family members. The same is true when a workplace injury plays a role in a later death – even if it occurs months or years later. But what if a someone with a workers’ compensation case passes away from a cause that has nothing to do with their claim?

The Workers’ Compensation Law provides that – at least in some situations – a surviving spouse, children, or other family members can continue to pursue benefits that the deceased worker was eligible for, but did not receive when he or she was alive. If the uncollected benefits are for a period of temporary disability from work, then any additional benefits for that period are payable in full to a surviving spouse, minor children, or the estate.

If the deceased worker would have been entitled to compensation for the permanent loss of use of a limb, vision loss or hearing loss (known as a “schedule loss” in the workers’ comp system), then the award is payable in full to a surviving spouse or minor child, but may be limited if the only available taker is the worker’s estate.

If the deceased worker was receiving weekly benefits for a permanent partial disability, then until recently the rule was that those benefits ended upon the worker’s death. A recent court decision changed that rule and made the balance of some permanent partial disability awards payable to a surviving spouse or child. However, that decision is on appeal to the Court of Appeals, and a final outcome is not expected until late 2022 or 2023. Watch this space for updates!


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