When dealing with a workers' compensation death claim, the injured/deceased worker is typically referred to as the "decedent". The surviving spouse and minor children of the decedent are presumed dependent on the decedent; therefore, they are automatically entitled to benefits. A surviving spouse is entitled to 35% of the decedent's average weekly wage and each child receives 10%, so long as the total amount paid to all dependents does not exceed 66 2/3rds of the decedent's average weekly wage, subject to the statutory weekly and dollar maximums. For example, if the injured/deceased worker had an average weekly wage of $500, the total amount of weekly benefits paid to all dependents cannot exceed approximately $333.35. If the decedent had an average weekly wage of $1,000.00 and the death occurred in 2016, the total amount of weekly benefits paid to all dependents cannot exceed $468.63 (which is the maximum weekly compensation rate for an injury/death that occurred in 2016).
It is important to note that death benefits are not lifetime benefits. As other workers' compensation indemnity benefits, death benefits will cease if paid out for 450 weeks. Also, if a surviving spouse dies or remarries, the surviving spouse's benefits will cease, and each child's portion of benefits will increase to 15%. If there is no surviving spouse, each child gets 25%. Children are typically paid to age 18, but possibly up to age 23 if the child is a full-time student or incapable of self-support due to mental or physical impairment.
It is also possible for other family members who are dependent on the decedent (such as a parent or sibling) to receive death benefits. However, dependency is not presumed for those other than a surviving spouse or minor child, which means other family members have to prove dependency. If they can do so, they can also get 15% of the decedent's average weekly wage so long as the spouse and children are taking less than 66 2/3rds of the decedent's average weekly wage.
Other death benefits include a funeral benefit of $5,000.00, a $1,000.00 immediate lump sum payment to a surviving spouse, and a payment to the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission's Second Injury Fund ($500 if no dependents; $300 if there are dependents).
What else should I know?
If the total percentage owed to all dependents collectively exceeds 66 2/3rds of the decedent's average weekly wage, then the benefits have to be distributed on a proportionate basis. Such a scenario can occur if there is a surviving spouse and 4 or more minor children. And in such a scenario, the calculations used to determine the correct payment rates can be complicated. So if you have any questions concerning the calculations or death benefits in general, do not hesitate to contact Richard Schwartz & Associates, P.A. at (601) 869-0696.