If your loved one dies because of a work-related accident or illness in Virginia, you might be entitled to death benefits through workers’ compensation. In Virginia, death benefits are paid to eligible survivors based on the deceased employee’s prior earnings. This article explains who is eligible for death benefits, how much you might receive and for how long, and how to file your claim.
Like many other states, Virginia limits eligibility for death benefits to certain family members who depended on the deceased employee for financial support. Virginia distinguishes between family members who were totally dependent on the deceased employee for financial support and those who were partially dependent. This is important because the level of dependence determines how long benefits are paid (see below).
The following family members are automatically presumed to be total dependents:
“Children” include stepchildren, adopted children, biological children born out of wedlock, and children born after the employee’s death. However, children who are married are not eligible for death benefits. “Parents” include stepparents and adoptive parents.
Other family members may also qualify as total or partial dependents on a case-by-case basis, as long as the dependency existed for at least three months before the employee’s accident. For example, an elderly aunt who lived with the employee and relied on her entirely for support might qualify as a total dependent.
To be eligible for benefits, your loved one must have passed away within nine years of a workplace accident or illness. The accident or illness must also be the actual cause of your loved one’s death.
Death benefits are paid in weekly installments equal to two-thirds of the deceased employee’s average weekly wages. For example, if the employee received an average weekly wage of $1,000, the weekly benefit would be approximately $667. Death benefits are subject to a minimum and maximum rate set by law each year. (See our article on Virginia workers’ comp benefits to learn more.)
Death benefits are paid in the following order of priority:
If there are multiple total dependents, benefits will be divided equally among them. For example, let’s say the weekly payout is $1,000 and the employee is survived by a wife and a child enrolled in college. The wife and child will each receive $500 a week. If there are no total dependents, benefits will be divided among partial dependents according to how much they depended on the employee. The math can get complicated, so you should talk to an experienced attorney if you have any questions.
Workers’ comp pays for burial expenses up to $10,000 and reasonable transportation expenses for the deceased up to $1,000.
Death benefit claims must be filed within two years of the employee’s death. Notify the employer as soon as possible and then file your claim with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission. You must provide a copy of the death certificate.
If the employer denies your claim or refuses to make payments you can request a hearing before the commission. Both sides may present evidence and the commission will make a decision about whether you are eligible for benefits and how much you are due. Talk to a lawyer about how to file a claim and how to appeal an unfavorable decision. (To learn more, see our article on how much a Virginia workers' comp lawyer costs.)