Wrongful Death and Workers’ Comp

An unexpected death can turn your world upside down both emotionally and financially.   Many people think that when the death occurs due to a work-related accident, they have no recourse other than worker’s compensation.  However, the simple fact that the accident is “work related” does not necessarily mean that a lawsuit cannot be filed to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

Workers’ compensation laws guarantee compensation when workers are injured or killed on the job.  In exchange for a guarantee of compensation, these laws prevent one from suing their employer or their co-employee.  However, many work sites have workers employed by others.  Where this is the case, it may still be possible to file a wrongful death lawsuit against these “third parties”.

How Does Workers’ Compensation Insurance Work When an Employee is Injured or Dies on the Job?

Workers’ compensation insurance laws were first enacted around 1920 as part of a trade off to protect employers from lawsuits, while guaranteeing workers access to medical care and access to a form of disability insurance if they suffer injuries while working.  These laws apply to most employers and they exist in most states.  As of this writing, only the state of Texas does not require employers to provide workers’ compensation insurance.

Workers’ compensation is a form of “no-fault” insurance, meaning access to coverage does not consider the facts of the incident or who caused the injury.  The only question is whether the person suffering an injury or death was employed and in the course of their work at the time the injury or death occurred.  If the answer to this inquiry is “YES”, the right to coverage will typically exist provided “notice” of the existence of the claim is properly filed in a timely manner.  The amount of time one has to file the claim varies from state to state.  The issue of how much can be recovered depends on the severity of the provable harm the worker has sustained.

Are There Circumstances Where a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Can Be Brought Because of a Workplace Accident?

The short answer to this question is “YES”, provided a person or entity other than the employer (or co-employee of the same employer) is responsible for the underlying incident.  For instance, if the cause of the accident was defective equipment, a “product liability” claim may exist against the manufacturer or seller of the product.  If the injury was due to the failure of a warning system or because of  inadequate maintenance on existing equipment for which third parties were responsible,  the wrongful death lawsuit may be brought against the negligent “third party.”  Similarly, if the injury occurred on a large work site, such as a construction project, the cause of the harm may rest on third parties who are not shielded by the workers’ compensation laws.  An experienced lawyer, such as Davis & Brusca, can offer guidance in your particular situation and determine whether a lawsuit may be permitted.

Here are a few examples of third parties who may be held liable in a wrongful death lawsuit arising from a work-related accident:

  • A manufacturer of a defective or dangerous machine part that was the cause of the deadly accident
  • A contractor not employed by the deceased’s employer
  • The property’s owner knew about a hazardous condition and did not take action to remedy the situation which caused the accident
  • Additional third parties who were negligent and the reason for the accident

Can I Receive Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits in Addition to Damages From a Wrongful Death Claim?

In many states, workers’ compensation death benefits provides the spouse with the victim’s lost wages along with medical and funeral expenses. Workers’ comp does not, however, compensate the family for non-monetary damages such as loss of support and consortium and pain and suffering. In addition, families should not expect to recover damages for the pain and suffering that the victim endured prior to their death.

Where possible, filing a wrongful death lawsuit can fill the void between the “actual damages” sustained and those which the law of worker’s comp recognizes.  Claims for wrongful death are brought by a representative of the deceased’s estate and compensation can be recovered for family that was dependent on the deceased for financial support or who received care, comfort or guidance from them, such as a spouse, minor children, or parents if financially dependent on their child.

Contact an Attorney

Davis & Brusca are proud to be the wrongful death lawyer Trenton, NJ trusts.  We have a great deal of experience and recognize the tremendous emotional and financial impact the sudden death of a loved one can bring.  Our team is hear to help.  Our wrongful death lawyers are available to review your situation and discuss the options available to you and your family.

Contact Davis & Brusca today for insight into your claim for personal injuries and whether other remedies exist in your worker’s compensation injury claim.