The final step in a workers’ compensation claim is the payment of partial or total permanency benefits to the injured worker. My clients frequently ask me if their spouse or family will receive their benefits it they die either before they get their permanency award, or during the pendency of the award. The answer to this question depends on the cause of death, and whether or not the injured worker has “dependents” as defined by law. There are several sections of the New Jersey Statute that address these issues:

N.J.S.A. 34:15-12 (e) addresses the issue of what happens when a person has been awarded partial or total permanency benefits and then they die. The statute says that if the person dies from any cause other than the work accident during the time period that they are receiving benefits for a permanent injury, the remaining benefits will be paid to the deceased person’s dependents. If there are no dependents the remaining money, not to exceed $3500, will be paid in a lump sum to the proper person for burial and funeral expenses. However in the case where a person is receiving total and permanent disability benefits, no payments are due to anyone else other than the injured worker after benefits have been paid in excess of 450 weeks.

N.J.S.A.34:15-13 (h) addresses the issue of what happens if the death results from an accident or occupational disease. In that case, whether there are dependents or not, the workers’ compensation carrier pays for the medical bills for the final illness and the funeral costs not to exceed $3500. In addition, the statute provides for an ongoing weekly compensation to dependents only, not to exceed a total of 70% of wages, up to a maximum set yearly by statute.

N.J.S.A.34:15-13 (f) defines “dependents” for workers’ compensation purposes. Of course a spouse or minor child being supported by the decedent are included in this definition. However there are other categories of dependents, and the statute must be reviewed carefully to make a final determination. Of note, a fiancé or “common law” spouse are not included in this definition.

 Please contact the Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at Stark and Stark for any questions about workers’ compensation benefits.

 Marci Hill Jordan is a Shareholder in Stark & Stark’s Marlton, New Jersey office, concentrating in Workers’ Compensation Law. For more information, please contact Ms. Jordan.