Ohio workers’ compensation death benefits for dependent relatives

In Ohio and elsewhere, most people think of workers' compensation as the legal remedy for injured workers and for those who contract occupationally related diseases. However, workers' comp also provides death benefits to surviving dependent relatives when Ohio workers die in work accidents, or from work injuries or illnesses.

Ohio workplace deaths by the numbers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that for 2012, preliminary data shows that 154 workplace deaths occurred in Ohio. According to the news release:

  • Three-quarters of these fatalities were from transportation incidents; contact with objects and equipment; and falls, slips and trips.
  • The vast majority of 2012 Ohio work-related deaths were of men.
  • White non-Hispanic workers accounted for 82 percent of these fatalities.
  • Transportation incidents were the number one cause.
  • More than half were of workers 25 to 54 years old.

These numbers do not even account for worker deaths from occupational diseases, rather than from injuries.

Ohio workers' comp death claims

To be eligible for Ohio workers' compensation death benefits, a relative must meet two requirements:

  • He or she must have been wholly or partly dependent on the deceased worker, or prospectively dependent.
  • He or she must have been in the deceased worker's family and a surviving spouse, lineal descendant, ancestor or sibling.

Ohio applies a fairly complex formula related to the worker's average weekly wage to determine the amount of weekly death benefits payable to eligible survivors. The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation or BWC may apportion benefits among eligible dependents as it finds "just and equitable." Also, payments may be made to one beneficiary for the benefit of others, including payment to a surviving spouse for the benefit of minor children.

An eligible surviving spouse receives weekly death benefits until he or she dies or marries again. At remarriage, the surviving husband or wife receives a lump sum payment equal to two years of benefits.

Other wholly dependent persons are eligible to receive death benefits until they are 18, until 25 if full-time students, or as long as they are incapacitated from working.

Ohio law presumes that if the deceased worker was living with his or her parents, the parents were sufficiently dependent to receive a minimum of $3,000 in death benefits.

Eligible partly dependent survivors receive benefits until stopped at the BWC's discretion. The agency may also determine whether anyone should receive death benefits as prospective dependents, capped at $3,000 collectively among all such beneficiaries.

If a worker dies from work-related injury or illness in Ohio and leaves no dependents, workers' comp will pay funeral expenses.

Normally, death benefits will not be available if the worker's death was by suicide or caused by the influence of alcohol or a nonprescription drug.

Legal counsel invaluable

It can be important and very helpful for a surviving dependent of such a worker to consult as early as possible with an experienced Ohio workers' comp lawyer for several reasons. The attorney can advise the survivor about how to meet the death benefit eligibility requirement that timely notice of death be given to the proper state authorities. Legal counsel can assist with the initial application for death benefits as well as with further appeal of a negative decision.

Finally, the lawyer can investigate whether another legal remedy might exist for the survivors if a third party negligently contributed to the worker's death such as a manufacturer of defective work equipment or the owner of dangerous work premises.