Death Claims and Workers’ Compensation: What You Need To Know

California Workers’ Compensation Law provides for Death Benefits for the Dependents of Industrially Deceased Workers.  Besides benefits for Dependents, Burial Expenses are also provided. This article will discuss Death Benefits, Dependency, and Burial Expenses.   This article is simply a discussion of the benefits. Death Cases and Death Benefit Laws are exceedingly complex.  Each case needs to be handled based upon the particular case’s facts. Please consider this article as informational only and not in any shape or form an authority. In sum, it should be considered solely as a starting point for analyzing Death Claims and Death Benefits.

Death Benefits

Generally, for injuries on or after January 1, 2006, Death Benefits can range from $250,000.00 to $320,000.00.  Death Benefits are paid out over time. The amount of Death Benefits, for non-presumptive Dependents, can vary based upon the facts.

What Is A Dependent?

Dependents are individuals who, at the time of the injury, were reliant upon the Deceased Injured Worker for support. For spouses, dependency is determined at the time of death.   Dependency, for workers’ compensation death cases, involves the question as to how much support was provided to an individual by the Industrially Deceased Worker.  The amount of support can impact as to whether someone is to be considered as wholly(totally) dependent or partially dependent. The amount of support provided by the Industrially Deceased Worker can determine the amount of the Death Benefit to be paid.  Some individuals are considered as conclusively or presumptively dependent.

Case law has indicated that:

“[a] dependent must be either a good faith member of the employee’s household or family or related to the employee in one of the ways listed by statute, for example, a spouse, child, parent, or grandchild.”  Chevron vs. WCAB 1999 Cal. Wrk. Comp. LEXIS 5203, 64 Cal. Comp. Cases 1, 19 Cal. 4th 1182, 969 P.2d 613, 81 Cal. Rptr. 2d 521.

Certain Individuals have presumptions of dependency, i.e. minor children. Other individuals, however,” claiming entitlement to a death benefit must establish either total or partial dependency in fact.”   In other words, for an Individual to prevail on a dependency claim, they must be able to produce facts and documentation to support their dependency.

The Courts have discussed dependency:

“Division One of this court has proffered the following definition, taken from the dictionary and from treatises: “Generally speaking, a dependent is one who relies on another for support. [Citation.] Webster defines dependent as ‘One who is sustained by another, or who relies on another for support or favor.’ [Citations.] 1

Campbell on Workmen’s Compensation (1935 ed.) section 863, pages 767–768 states:

“Dependency is a present, existing relationship between two persons where the one is sustained by, or relies on, the aid of the other for his means of living. This does not mean absolute dependency for the necessities of life, but rather that the dependent looks to and relies upon the contributions of the injured employee in whole or in part as a means of supporting and maintaining such dependent in accordance with his accustomed mode of life. Dependency within the meaning of the Act involves the idea of a present, current reliance upon the decedent for support.’ [Citations.]”

(Industrial Indem. Co. v. Industrial Acc. Com. (1966) 243 Cal.App.2d 700, 705–706 [52 Cal. Rptr. 647, 31 Cal. Comp. Cases 238].)

It is important to note that the support can include maintaining such Dependent in accordance with their mode of life.   This is very similar to language used in divorce law.  The extreme example of this is a wealthy person who was supplying monies to their children in majority so that they can live the “lifestyles of the rich and famous.” [Note: my apologies to Robin Leach.]  These children would have a bona fide dependency claim.

What Is A Wholly (Total) Dependent?

Wholly Dependents are also known as “Total Dependents”. They are individuals who were largely reliant upon the Deceased Injured Worker for support. The best example of a Wholly Dependent individual is a minor child.

What Is A Partial Dependent?

A Partial Dependent is an individual who received some support from the Deceased Injured Worker.  The best example of a Partially Dependent Individual is a child of majority who receives some financial support. For example, the Industrially Deceased Worker paid the child’s car insurance or made car loan payments for them while they were attending college.

How Does One Know Whether They Are A Total or Partial Dependent?

Per caselaw, “[t]he identity of dependents, whether their dependency is total or partial, and the extent of partial dependency are “determined in accordance with the facts as they exist at the time of the injury of the employee.” (§ 3502 Massey v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1993) 5 Cal.4th 674, 677 [20 Cal. Rptr. 2d 825, 854 P. 2d 117, 58 Cal. Comp. Cases 367] ARCO, supra, 31 Cal.3d at p. 720.) The time of injury also controls the applicable statutory rate of the death benefit. (See § 4702.)

Therefore, the Dependent needs to establish the correct date of injury and make an analysis as to their support for that period of time.

How Does One Prove Dependency?

Per caselaw, [i]n order to substantiate partial dependency, the death benefit claimant must prove the actual dollar amount annually devoted by the decedent to his or her support. (ARCO, supra, 31 Cal.3d at p. 723.) Once the claimant has established partial dependency by proving the extent of the support actually contributed by the decedent, he or she has effectively proved “the amount annually devoted to the support of the partial dependent[]” within the meaning of section 4702(a)(4), which governs the calculation of the death benefit. (See 1 Hanna, Cal. Law of Employee Injuries and Workers’ Compensation (rev. 2d ed. 1998) § 9.05[4][d], p. 9–25, fn. 51.) “

What Are Burial Expenses?

Burial Expenses are provided by the Labor Code if an injury causes death.  The Burial Expenses are to be “reasonable.”  Further, for Injuries on or after January 1, 2013, Burial Expenses are payable up to $10,000.00.

In order to get properly reimbursed for burial expenses, it is recommended that receipts be obtained from the various vendors or religious institution involved.  Also, some form of explanation of the receipts would also be of assistance. They should be submitted to the insurance company for reimbursement.

Is There Any Caselaw Concerning Burial Expenses?

Yes.  There has been some litigation concerning what is “reasonable” burial expenses.

Burial Expenses Allowable When There is a Funeral Ceremony Without a Body

In Shoichi Iba vs. O’Conner 1947 Cal. Wrk. Comp. Lexis 130, in an Industrial Accident Commission decision, the Commission held that the expression burial meant more than the mere act of burying a body. It also embraced attending a funeral ceremony such as a church service.   Further, the absence of the body did not make a difference when a funeral ceremony was a part of the religious ritual of the faith to which the decedent’s family belonged.

Religious Ceremony Expenses in Connection with Burial Expenses Reimbursable

In Samarron vs. Rich Manufacturing, 7 Cal. Comp. Cases 233, 1942 Cal. Wrk. Comp. LEXIS 315, the Commission found that a funeral mass was allowable as a burial expense.   The grounds were that “on the ground that no technical distinction should be made in the interpretation of the words “funeral” and “burial”, and on the further ground that with persons belonging to certain religious faiths the burial of a member thereof, without the saying of funeral mass, would not be ecclesiastically valid in the eyes of the church.”

Are There Any Other Statutes or Facts That May Impact Dependency Benefits?

Yes. There are a number of statutes that impact the value of death benefits.  Consultation with an attorney is indicated with respect to those additional possible benefits.   Also, there are some statutes that may lower the death benefit.  Consultation is needed concerning those issues as well.

What If I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding your workers’ compensation claim, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 26 years. Contact us today for more information.


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