When an employee in Rhode Island dies from a work-related illness or injury, the employee’s spouse, children, and other dependents may be eligible for death benefits through workers’ compensation. Also called “dependency benefits,” these weekly benefits are paid to surviving family members who depended on the worker for financial support. Workers’ comp also pays for burial expenses. (To learn more about benefits available to injured workers, see our article on collecting workers’ comp in Rhode Island.)
In Rhode Island, death benefits are available to the deceased worker’s dependents: family members or next of kin who were wholly or partially dependent on the worker’s earnings at the time of injury. If no one meets this definition, the parents of a deceased worker who died before reaching the age of 21 will be considered dependents, even if they were not dependent on the worker’s earnings.
The following family members are conclusively presumed to be wholly dependent on the deceased worker if they lived with the worker or were dependent on the worker at the time of death:
Other family members or next of kin may also qualify as whole or partial dependents on a case-by-case basis, if they can show they relied on the deceased worker’s earnings at the time of the injury. Partial dependents are entitled to benefits only if there are no whole dependents.
The basic death benefit available to all wholly dependent beneficiaries combined is 75% of the deceased worker’s spendable base wages: the worker’s take-home pay after federal and state income taxes, Social Security, and Medicare are deducted. These benefits are subject to a maximum amount based on the state’s average weekly wage. This maximum is calculated in October of every year. For most of 2018, the maximum benefit amount is $1,221. Whole dependents share the benefit equally.
However, if the worker leaves dependent children, the surviving spouse is entitled to an additional $40 per week per child. A spouse is also entitled to a 4% cost of living increase each year. If the worker leaves no spouse, or if the spouse dies or remarries, the children are entitled to an additional $40 per week for every child beyond the first.
If there are no wholly dependent beneficiaries, partial dependents are entitled to benefits equal to the average amount the worker provided to them each week. However, the total amount paid to all partial dependents may not exceed 75% of the worker’s wages or the maximum dollar amount described above.
Benefits to a surviving spouse end upon remarriage. Benefits to the worker’s children end when a child reaches 18 or, if the child is enrolled full-time in school, when the child reaches 23. These cutoffs don’t apply to children who are mentally or physically incapacitated from earning.
Under Rhode Island law, workers’ comp must pay $20,000 for the deceased worker’s burial expenses.
Dependents seeking death benefits or funeral benefits must first notify the employer of the employee’s death. The employer is required to notify the insurance carrier, which will start the benefits process. If benefits are denied or there is some other dispute, you may file a petition with the worker’s compensation court. You must file this petition within two years of the employee’s death.
If the employer doesn’t file a claim for you, or the insurance carrier doesn’t grant your claim, you should consider talking to a workers’ comp attorney. Learn more about how workers’ comp attorneys charge in Rhode Island.