Death benefit claims

Death benefit claims

As a solicitor who works in both the estate and personal injury space, it surprises me how often families are not aware that there may be workers compensation entitlements available where a death results from a work-related injury. While sometimes the circumstances of the injury are clear when there has been a significant accident at work that caused life-threatening injuries, there are some injuries that result in the death of a worker that are less obvious. A motor vehicle accident while travelling between worksites, a suicide following a workplace psychological injury, skin cancer developing after lengthy periods of working in an outdoor role, or an employee developing particular types of cancer now recognised to be as a result of exposure to chemicals over a length of time in the workplace are all examples. The issue of whether the death results from a workplace injury is a determination made based on available evidence including information from the employer, any witnesses, medical records, police investigation reports and/or a coroner’s report.

Under the workers compensation scheme that applies in NSW, there is a fixed lump sum amount payable for a work-related death based on the date of death. The compensation amount is increased twice a year and as at 1 April 2024 is $929,200. If liability for the death is accepted by the relevant insurer, there are also potentially weekly benefits payments available for dependent children up to the age of 16 or 21 for full time students. The insurer will also pay funeral expenses up to $15,000. The legal costs associated with making a death benefit claim under the workers compensation scheme, including the costs of obtaining medical or other evidence in support of the claim, are funded by the Independent Review Office for Approved Lawyers, with some limited exceptions.

If liability for the claim is accepted, the lump sum compensation payable will be paid to dependent family members or the legal personal representative (executor) of the estate. When dependents are minors the lump sum amount is paid to the NSW Trustee & Guardian to be managed on their behalf until they reach the age of 18 years.  Where there is more than one dependent family member, the matter is frequently referred to the Personal Injury Commission for determination as to the apportionment of the lump sum based on level of dependency as at the time of death. Each dependent will need to obtain their own legal advice as to their potential entitlement to make a claim for a portion of the lump sum amount.

It is devastating for families when work injuries result in the death of a loved one, and no amount of compensation will ever be enough to replace them. However, when workers’ compensation is available, it can make a real difference to families by giving them some financial security moving forward. If you believe a loved one’s death was caused by their employment, it is important to seek advice from a solicitor who practices specifically in  workers compensation.

KC Hilton, WNB Legal