According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 118 workers were killed in Virginia workplace accidents in 2020. The construction and transportation industries led the way with the most fatalities, which isn’t that surprising. Hauling long distances and working at a great height is more dangerous than sitting at a desk. But any accident, regardless of how it happens, is a tragedy for family members left behind.
Virginia law gives some family members a right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit whenever a loved one dies due to the negligence of another. But what happens if your spouse or parent was killed at work? Can you sue?
Unfortunately, Virginia’s workers’ compensation system prevents victims from suing their employer for the accident. Nonetheless, there are other avenues for obtaining important compensation for your loved ones. Our Winchester wrongful death lawyer discusses your family’s options in this article.
Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits
The good news is that dependent family members might qualify for death benefits when a loved one dies in a workplace accident or due to an occupational illness. For example, your loved one might die in an explosion or fire, or they contract cancer due to exposure to toxic chemicals at work. These are fatal injuries/illnesses suffered while working.
Workers’ compensation will provide up to $10,000 in burial benefits so you can give your loved one a decent funeral. You also can receive up to $1,000 in reasonable transportation expenses.
Dependents can also receive compensation. By law, the compensation is equal to two-thirds of your loved one’s average weekly wages, subject to certain maximum and minimum amounts. If your loved one made $600 a week, you could receive $400.
Those who are totally dependent, such as a spouse, can receive compensation for 500 weeks. Children under 18 are also wholly dependent, as are children under 23 who are enrolled as full-time students.
Total dependents divide the death benefit equally. Other dependent family members might also qualify for compensation, depending on the facts.
The great thing about workers’ compensation is that benefits are paid without regard to fault. This means your loved one could have been negligent and contributed to his or her own fatal accident. Imagine a trucker who is momentarily distracted after spilling coffee on his lap. He then crashes into a car and goes off the road. For purposes of workers’ compensation, his negligence won’t prevent his family from seeking death benefits.
The bad news is that the benefit isn’t very generous. Workers’ compensation will not pay 100% of your loved one’s average weekly wage—only two-thirds. Also, the payments do not last indefinitely. If you lost your husband in his early 30s, then you will likely lose out on decades of income.
Third Party Lawsuits for Wrongful Death
You might sue someone other than an employer for the death. If so, you can increase the compensation your family receives.
Consider the following examples:
- Your spouse drives a truck for a living and is killed when a car crashes into him, forcing him off the road. In this situation, your loved one is working, but he also died at the hands of someone else.
- Your spouse is killed when defective equipment malfunctions at work. For example, defective scaffolding could collapse, causing a tragic fall, or a computer could explode and fatally injure your wife. The death happens at work, but it’s caused by a defective product.
- A family member is killed by a customer or vendor. For example, your spouse could have been run over in a parking lot by a customer. The death happens at work, but your loved one is still killed by someone.
In these examples, someone other than an employer is legally liable for the death. As a result, you can use Virginia’s wrongful death statute to bring a claim for compensation against them.
To be clear: unlike with workers’ compensation, fault does make a difference in a wrongful death case. Your attorney should carefully examine all facts to determine who has the blame for the death. That could be difficult, given the lack of information. Contact an experienced law firm which has handled wrongful death cases before.
The Benefits of a Third-Party Lawsuit
At Correll Law Firm, our Winchester wrongful death lawyer always considers whether you can sustain a third-party claim. There are certain benefits to filing a lawsuit of this type for workplace accidents:
- Increase the amount of lost income. Workers’ compensation pays only up to two-thirds of your loved one’s average weekly wage. You could seek 100% in a wrongful death lawsuit against a defendant. That can provide financial protection to your family.
- Receive compensation for your grief. Workers’ compensation won’t pay anything for the grief you suffer because of the death. With a wrongful death claim, you can request compensation to cover grief and other intangible losses of that sort.
- Seek punitive damages. If someone intentionally or wantonly kills your loved one, you can seek punitive damages. You would receive them in addition to your compensatory damages. Punitive damages can increase the amount of money you take home.
- Obtain a measure of justice. Wrongful death cases are civil, not criminal. Still, family members report satisfaction at receiving a sense of closure when they hold the defendant accountable for a preventable death.
These are only some of the benefits of a third-party lawsuit. You should consult an attorney following a fatal workplace accident to see if this is an option for your family.
Call Our Firm after a Workplace Accident
If you lost a parent or spouse in a workplace accident, you have our condolences. We know that you might feel as if the world is spinning out of control. Nonetheless, family members have critical rights to financial support when a loved one dies in a workplace accident. You need steady legal guidance to protect your family’s future. Please reach out to our law firm.
Correll Law offers free consultations to families who have lost loved ones in accidents. Please call our law firm today, 540-535-2005.