Is a Fatal Work Accident a Wrongful Death Claim or a Workers’ Compensation Claim?

Accidents and injuries occur for workers every day in the U.S. When they happen, workers can file a workers’ compensation claim to pay for their medical treatment, as well as compensate them for paychecks they miss until they’ve recovered enough to return to work. But what happens when an accident is fatal?

Can workers’ families get compensation for the loss of their loved ones after an on-the-job accident causes their death? If so, how?

While no one wants to contemplate their own mortality, it’s a question that every family should know the answer to, especially if one parent is the sole source of income for the family.

The answer is even more relevant for South Carolina residents. According to the most recent data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 South Carolina had a fatal occupational injury rate of 4.6 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers, a rate higher than 70% of states in the country.

Should I file for workers’ compensation or wrongful death after my loved one dies on the job?

If you lost your spouse to a workplace accident, at a minimum you may be entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits. Depending on who or what caused the accident, you may also be entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

If your loved one was eligible for workers’ compensation (which is almost all workers in South Carolina) you do not have the legal right to sue their employer. You can only get compensation from the employer for your loved one’s death through their workers’ compensation insurance.

However, if your loved one was killed while working due to the actions of a third party, you may be able to sue the third party for your loved one’s wrongful death.

Examples include:

  • If your loved one was killed in a motor vehicle accident, you may be able to pursue compensation from the other driver.
  • If your loved one was killed due to defective work equipment or tools, you could pursue compensation from the manufacturer.
  • If your loved one was killed due to the negligence of a contractor, you can possibly pursue compensation from the contractor.
  • If your loved one was killed due to hazardous property conditions, you can may be able to pursue compensation from the property owner (provided the property owner is not your loved one’s employer).

If you have questions about whether your loved one’s death is the fault of a third party, contact the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Joye Law Firm to discuss your claim.

What’s the difference between workers’ compensation and a wrongful death claim?

All employers in South Carolina with four or more employees (including part-time workers and family members) are legally required to provide workers’ compensation for their employees. Workers’ compensation provides benefits for on-the-job injuries, illnesses, and deaths regardless of who was at fault.

When a worker is killed, workers’ compensation death benefits for their loved ones include:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Medical expenses related to any treatment they received for their injury before their death
  • 2/3rds of the deceased’s weekly wages

They do not, however, include benefits for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.

A wrongful death claim in South Carolina requires the deceased’s family members to prove their death was the result of someone else’s negligence. Furthermore, the lawsuit must be filed by the executor of the deceased’s estate on the family’s behalf – they can’t file the lawsuit themselves.

Damages in a wrongful death claim may include:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Medical expenses related to any treatment they received for their injury before their death
  • Lost income and benefits
  • Loss of deceased’s care, companionship, and protection
  • Loss of deceased’s experience, knowledge, and judgement
  • Pain, suffering, and mental anguish caused by loss of the deceased

What are the most common fatal work injuries?

In descending order, the top five most common causes of workplace death are as follows:

  1. Transportation accidents
  2. Injuries caused by other people or animals
  3. Falls, slips, and trips
  4. Getting caught in running equipment or being struck by falling objects
  5. Exposure to harmful substances or environments

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, transportation-related injuries account for 40% of all work-related fatal accidents.

What are the most dangerous industries to work in?

In descending order, the top 10 most dangerous job titles in the U.S. in 2018 were:

  1. Logger
  2. Fisher
  3. Pilot
  4. Roofer
  5. Garbage Collector
  6. Truck Driver
  7. Agriculture Worker
  8. Iron/Steel Worker
  9. Construction Worker
  10. Groundskeeper

Have You Lost a Loved One in a Work Accident? We Want to Help.

Nothing is more devastating than losing a loved one in a sudden accident. It can feel like your world is ending. When your loved one was also your primary source of income, it becomes a struggle to recover not only emotionally, but also financially. Some families never manage it.

We don’t want that to happen to you. You deserve compensation for your loss, and we’ll work hard to get it for you. Contact our South Carolina workplace injury attorneys today to learn how we can take over the logistics for you, so you can focus on the grieving process.

About the Author

Since 1968, the South Carolina personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys of Joye Law Firm have been committed to securing compensation for accident and injury victims. Our compassionate and dedicated lawyers have nearly 250 years of combined litigation experience, and many of them have been recognized as South Carolina Super Lawyers. For many years, our South Carolina personal injury law firm has been listed with an AV rating in the prestigious Martindale-Hubbell legal directory.