South Carolina’s workers’ compensation system is in place to assist employees who suffer a work-related illness or are injured while on the job. Qualified injured employees are generally entitled to a percentage of their lost wages and to compensation for their injury-related medical expenses. The idea is that injured employees will be reimbursed for all of their necessary medical expenses and will be paid 66.66 percent of the average weekly wage that they were receiving before they were injured.
But what happens if an employee dies from a work-related injury or illness that would have qualified them to receive workers’ compensation benefits had they survived? If this unfortunate situation occurs in South Carolina death benefits are sometimes available to the deceased employee’s surviving family members.
Death Benefits in South Carolina
Eligible dependents of a deceased employee who are entitled to receive death benefits under South Carolina’s workers’ compensation system can recover weekly compensation (based on the employee’s average weekly wage) and funds to help pay for the employee’s funeral expenses. Determining precisely how much a dependent can expect to receive in weekly death benefit payments can be tricky, but the general rule is 66.66 percent of the deceased employee’s average weekly wage for a period of 500 weeks from the date of the injury, plus burial expenses not to exceed $2,500.
This is the general rule, but be aware that there are several exceptions and variations to this rule. For example, the general rule does not hold true if the employee received workers’ compensation payments before his or her death, or if the death benefits are paid to nonresident aliens. Because there are numerous exceptions and they are each very case specific it is always advisable to discuss the details of your case with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to ensure that you are getting the workers’ compensation benefits that you are legally entitled to. But be warned, it is imperative that you act quickly as South Carolina has a statute of limitations that requires death benefit claims to be filed within two years of the employee’s death.
Who is Entitled to Receive Death Benefits?
In order to be eligible to receive death benefits in South Carolina the recipient must have been a dependent of the deceased employee while they were living. South Carolina Code Ann. § 42-9-290 states that if an employee’s death triggers death benefits under South Carolina’s workers’ compensation system then the employer (or their insurance provider) is obligated to pay death benefits to those who were wholly dependent on the deceased employee. Under the statute, a person is presumed to be “wholly dependent” if they are:
- The deceased employee’s spouse,
- The deceased employee’s minor child,
- The deceased employee’s adult child who is mentally or physically incapable of self-support, or
- The deceased employee’s adult child who is enrolled fulltime at an accredited educational institution and is less than 23-years-old.
While the list of individuals noted above are generally presumed to have been wholly dependent on the deceased employee, an informative article from the Workers’ Compensation Institute explains that illegitimate children, stepchildren, and adopted children may be treated differently than biological legitimate children and may not be presumed to have been wholly dependent. However, just because a child is not presumed to have been wholly dependent does not mean that the child will ultimately be unable to receive death benefits. These children, or another dependant, are entitled to compensation if they are able to show that they were in fact wholly dependent on the deceased employee for more than three months prior to the employee’s passing.
But what if the deceased employee did not leave behind any individuals who were wholly dependent on them? If this is the case then partial dependents take is based on their share of dependence. If there are any remaining benefits leftover these funds are distributed to the employee’s non-dependent children, and if there aren’t any, then to the employee’s surviving parents. While this distribution scheme may be confusing, don’t get bogged down in the details as a local workers’ compensation attorney will be able to determine whether or not you are entitled to death benefits, and if so in what amount.
What if Your Claim for Death Benefits is Denied?
It is important to note that death benefit claims can be denied for a variety of different reasons in South Carolina. For example, claims are often denied if:
- The deceased employee’s injuries were intentionally self-inflicted,
- The employer claims that the deceased individual was an independent contractor rather than an employee (and therefore is not entitled to workers’ compensation),
- The employer denied that the employee was on the job when they were injured, or
- The employee died while committing a serious crime.
Workers’ compensation benefits are frequently denied; however, it is important to keep in mind that an initial denial is by no means the final word on the matter. Initial denials can be appealed and, if necessary, deserving parties can sue in court for the benefits that they are legally entitled to. If your claim for death benefits has been denied, or if you have been offered less than you deserve, be sure to consult with a local workers’ compensation attorney without delay.
Need Legal Advice?
If you’ve lost a loved one to a work-related accident or illness you probably have a hundred concerns – don’t let collecting death benefits be one of them. Let our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys in Rock Hill pursue the workers’ compensation benefits that you are legally entitled to so that you are free to address other concerns. At the Elrod Pope Law Firm we understand how challenging the death of a loved one can be and we are here to help. Contact us at either our Rock Hill or Lake Wylie office today to schedule a free consultation.
Thomas E. Pope is a Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Medical Malpractice Attorney who practices in Rock Hill, Lake Wylie, and Lancaster, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 31 years now. Thomas E. Pope believes in protecting the injured. Learn more about his experience here.