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Death on the Job: The Role of Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation

Posted D. Joseph Chapman on Nov 14, 2013 in Wrongful Death

The Pennsylvania workers’ compensation program is designed to provide relief for workers who have been hurt on the job. It’s a no-fault program, so employees are assured that their benefits will be available after a workplace injury—regardless of whether the accident was caused by a coworker, by their boss, or by random and unpredictable events. In exchange for guaranteed coverage of medical expenses and a portion of lost income, workers are forbidden to sue their employers or coworkers for negligence.

But what happens if the worker is no longer able to claim his benefits? What happens if the injury is so severe that the worker dies?

Compensation for a Workplace Death

The workers’ compensation program in Pennsylvania has provisions for death benefits after a fatal workplace accident. Unlike regular workers’ comp benefits, the death benefit is paid to the surviving family members after a work-related accident, illness, or injury.

The amount of money that can be recovered through workers’ compensation is quite narrowly restricted; it’s much more limited than other wrongful death claims. There are only two categories for payments:

  • Funeral expenses – Worker’s compensation death benefits will pay reasonable funeral costs, up to a maximum of $3,000.
  • Income replacement – The surviving spouse and dependent children can collect weekly payments to replace a portion of the income that the deceased employee would have brought home in pay. The spouse will collect these benefits until he or she marries again, or until death. Dependent children will collect benefits until age 18, but this can be extended as far as age 23 if the child is enrolled as a full-time student.

You May Not Need a Lawyer to Help You Collect Worker’s Compensation Death Benefits

In many cases, a bereaved family will have no difficulty collecting death benefits through worker’s compensation after a job site injury. If the accident is immediately fatal, or if the worker dies within a few days of being injured at work, the employer and the insurance company usually make no objection. In fact, a Pennsylvania employer will often make a public display of its eager cooperation with the bereaved family, in order to counter negative publicity about the workplace accident.

It’s much more common for employers and worker’s compensation insurance companies to object to death benefits when a substantial time passes between the injury or onset of an occupational illness and the employee’s death. When the death results from medical complications or a progressive organ failure, the insurance company may challenge the claim by asserting that the death wasn’t solely caused by a workplace event. To sustain your claim, you will have to present expert testimony and medical records to refute the insurance company’s position.

That’s where we can help you. At Schmidt Kramer, our Harrisburg wrongful death lawyers have had substantial success securing workers’ compensation death benefits for families, despite the objections of employers and their insurers. We know how to tell when they’re bluffing, and we have access to some of the best medical experts in the nation to help us prove that your loved one’s death was work-related.

We never charge any legal fees for our services unless we can get a recovery for you. For a FREE, confidential consultation with one of our trial attorneys, call our Harrisburg office at 717-888-8888 locally or 888-476-0807 toll-free. We’ll do our best to stop the insurance company from disgracing your family member’s memory by denying the death benefits your family deserves.