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Section 31 Chapter 152: Death; Compensation of Dependents; Hearings

In most Boston workers’ compensation cases, we are dealing with a situation where a worker was injured on the job and suffered an injury that disables them from working. Sometimes the injury is severe and results in a permanent and total incapacitation, meaning the worker may never be able to work again for the rest of his or her life (until reaching the retirement benefits). In other cases, the injured worker’s injuries are less severe, and they simply cannot work for a few weeks to a few months.

However, there are also workplace accidents where a worker is killed. Benefits in these cases are spelled out in Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 152, Section 31.

A worker can be killed at any type of job, even working in a retail store, as seemingly strange or “freak” accidents occur from time to time. Still, there are clearly some jobs wherein workers are at far higher risk of a fatal workplace injury. For example, the construction industry is one type of job where we tend to see more fatal accidents. As our Boston workers’ compensation attorneys can explain, there are a variety of reasons that construction jobs are more dangerous than other types of work. One of the reasons is that construction workers are more likely to be working on roofs and high up on other structures. Many fatal accidents on a construction site involve a worker falling to his or her death. In other accidents, a large piece of construction equipment or an object falls from a high elevation onto a worker below. There are also numerous accidents in which a worker is in a trench doing work on utilities when the trench walls suddenly collapse.

In these accidents, and many others, a worker may be killed on the job. Typically in these tragic cases, workers’ compensation is still the appropriate, and sometimes only remedy to pursue, rather than a personal injury lawsuit. This is because workers’ compensation is designed for cases where a worker, who is an employee within the meaning of the statute, is injured or killed on the job. The types of compensation in these cases are limited to medical expenses related to the fatal injury or illness, funeral or burial expenses, and benefits for lost wages. Like any other workers’ compensation case, the compensation in these fatal workplace cases will not include pain and suffering typically associated with a personal injury case.

In a typical case, the worker is injured, and that injury results in total or partial incapacity. That incapacity means the worker cannot go back to work for a time and earn money for his or her family and him or herself. In fatal work accident cases, the workers will never be able to go back to work and earn money for their families and will not live to reach retirement age. As a result, in a Boston workers’ compensation death benefits case, the primary award will be to compensate surviving family members for lost wages.

Death Benefits in Boston Workplace Accident Cases

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Section 31 of Chapter 152 of the Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) entitled “Death; compensation for depends; hearings,” requires the workers’ compensation insurance company to pay dependents and/or surviving spouses compensation when a worker dies as a result of a work accident. Sections 31 and 32 are used to determine if an individual is a surviving dependent.

It is important to look at who is and who is not covered as a dependent for the purposes of a fatal Boston work accident case, as some of the results might surprise you. For example, the former spouse who was still wholly dependent upon the decedent at the time of his or her work-related death may still collect under the section.

Under Section 31, the widow or widower would receive compensation in the form of weekly checks in the amount of two-thirds of the average weekly wage. These weekly benefits will continue as long as the surviving spouse does not remarry. Once the surviving spouse remarries, he or she is no longer considered a dependent of the decedent worker. Each child of the decedent who is under the age of 18 is entitled to an additional payment of six dollars per week per child. There are also additional payments for adult children who are physically or mentally incapacitated and are thus still dependent on the surviving spouse.

If the surviving spouse becomes deceased or remarries, the insurance company is required to make a payment to decedent’s children pursuant to the provisions of Section 31 of the workers’ compensation act. The law prevents the surviving spouse’s children from receiving more than the amount of money that the surviving spouse would have received should he or she have remained married.

In some cases, the worker is injured on the job and may not die until sometime later. We have seen cases where a worker is injured on the job and must undergo expensive medical procedures. At some point later, and this could even be years later, the worker dies of complications related to the injuries he or she sustained in the original accident. When this happens, the benefits that were being paid under other sections of the Workers’ Compensation Act, such as Section 34A, which covers benefits paid under a disability rating of Permanent and Total Incapacitation will be transferred to the death benefits, section 31. As we have discussed in other articles, those benefits are calculated based upon the injured workers’ average weekly wage prior to the on-the-job accident.

When a worker has been killed in a Boston workplace injury, the worker’s is entitled to reasonable burial expenses. Chapter 152, Section 33 of the Massachusetts General Laws, entitled “Burial Expenses”, outlines the amount and scope of burial expenses the workers’ compensation insurance company must pay. In most cases, this is not something that the insurance company will argue about or deny, but in cases where the death happened years later, they might try to argue that the death was not work-related. This is because the insurance company is usually far more concerned about their bottom line and turning revenue into profits than whether the family of a deceased worker is properly compensated. One thing you can do to make things easier is to make sure to speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who will fight for your rights to a full and appropriate benefits award.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.

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