Wrongful Death Damages from a Fatal Workplace Accident
Before changes to state law, wrongful death damages did not exist. No cause of action was thought to exist for an injured worker's family, as they were not directly injured. However, today the deceased worker's family members can bring a wrongful death action against the worker's employer and other parties responsible for the death.
When Workers' Compensation Is Not Enough or Is Unavailable
Workplace accidents are generally covered by workers' compensation law, which requires most employers to provide coverage for their employees. Most injured workers rely on this when an employer engaged in negligence or was liable in some way for the resulting injury to the worker.
If a worker has died in a workplace accident, most people believe that the workers' compensation death benefit is the only thing the family can recover. While the death benefit usually covers the worker's medical and funeral expenses as well as a portion of the deceased's salary, this might not be enough.
The family may have relied exclusively on the deceased worker's income. The employer may not have had workers' compensation coverage or may not have followed OSHA standards or other regulations required in order to receive protection under workers' compensation laws. A third party may have been responsible for the death, or the person seeking money may not be eligible under the law.
In these scenarios, workers' compensation is not enough or is unavailable. When that is the case, the family can file a wrongful death lawsuit as well as seek relief under the workers' compensation death benefit.
Types of Damages Available
Financial awards to cover various expenses, effects of the death and other related matters, including the following, may be available under a wrongful death lawsuit:
- Medical and funeral costs (if unavailable or inadequate under workers' compensation)
- Lost wages, including future earnings
- Lost benefits such as health insurance
- Lost inheritance
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of support or companionship/consortium
- Mental anguish
- General damages
- Punitive damages (if the employer or third party engaged in some type of egregious conduct or failed so badly in providing a safe working environment that the court wants to discourage it and others from doing the same things in the future)
Getting Legal Counsel
Before considering a wrongful death lawsuit, it is best to speak to a licensed personal injury attorney familiar with wrongful death actions in your state. The attorney can give you advice specific to your situation, figure out the sorts of damages to pursue and make sure your family is properly compensated for their loss.