North Carolina workers’ compensation death benefits

North Carolina workers' comp death benefits provide a safety net for some survivors.

When a North Carolinian dies in a work-related accident or from an occupational disease, it is tragic on many levels for surviving family and friends. It may be the untimely passing of a young person or a death that is especially painful because it feels unnecessary and undeserved.

But when the worker was the breadwinner for his or her family or had people financially dependent on him or her, the death could unexpectedly send those dependents into a dangerous spiral into more meager lifestyles or even potential poverty.

Thankfully, North Carolina workers' compensation law provides financial death benefits to qualified survivors in such situations. Certain survivors who were financially dependent on the decedent (and next of kin if no one was dependent) are eligible. Payment of burial expenses is also available.

Normally, death must have happened within six years after the work injury or occupational disease that caused it, or within two years of the final determination that the worker has had a disability covered by workers' compensation, whichever is later.

Weekly death benefits are calculated based on about two-thirds of the average weekly wage the worker was earning when the accident or illness occurred, subject to a statutory cap and not less than $30.

Burial expenses are available up to $10,000.

Entitlement to death benefits depends on whether certain relationships existed:

  • All people who were entirely dependent on the deceased employee when he or she was injured or became ill may equally split the weekly benefit. If only one person was completely dependent, that person gets the entire amount.
  • If the deceased worker had no one completely dependent on him or her, but had people partially dependent, each of them are eligible to receive part of the weekly death benefit in proportion to the amount of support received from the decedent yearly.
  • An alternative for partial dependents if they are all "next of kin" (children, siblings or parents of the deceased - except for certain parents who willfully abandoned the decedent) is, if they all agree, to take a lump sum payment at present value of the death benefits equally divided.
  • If no one was wholly or partially dependent, but next of kin (as just defined) survive, those next of kin are eligible to receive a present value lump sum of the benefit amount distributed according to North Carolina intestacy law that determines property inheritance rights when someone dies without a will.
  • If there are no dependents or next of kin, the only death benefit would be for burial expenses up to $10,000 to whoever is "entitled."

Weekly death benefits continue for 500 weeks, with two exceptions:

  • Dependent children's benefits end at age 18.
  • If when the worker died the dependent spouse was physically or mentally disabled and this condition prevented self-support, the payments would continue throughout the spouse's life or until remarriage.

Rules for certain aliens and foreign dependents may be different.

This article introduces North Carolina workers' comp death benefits, but the law and procedure can be complex. Denied applications may be appealed through the North Carolina Industrial Commission and state courts. Any potentially eligible person should speak with an experienced attorney to understand his or her rights, and to assist with application or appeal.

From our office in Asheville, the workers' compensation lawyers at Ganly & Ramer, P.L.L.C., represent clients throughout the state of North Carolina in death benefit claims and other workers' compensation matters.

Keywords: North Carolina, workers' compensation, death benefit, survivor, dependent, next of kin, burial expenses, average weekly wage, entitlement, partial, eligible, lump sum, children, spouse