Like most other states, West Virginia’s workers’ compensation program provides death benefits to surviving family members of a worker who dies from work-related causes. These benefits include a set percentage of the worker’s average weekly earnings, as explained below. Funeral expenses are also covered. (To learn more about other types of benefits, see our article on workers’ comp benefits for injured workers in West Virginia.)
West Virginia's worker's compensation laws differentiate between total dependents and partial dependents.
In West Virginia, members of the deceased worker’s family may qualify as total dependents for workers’ comp death benefits. West Virginia law categorizes these dependents into three tiers of preference.
The group with the highest preference for death benefits includes the following family members:
The second preferred category includes the deceased worker’s surviving parents who wholly relied on the worker for financial support.
The third and lowest preferred category includes the deceased worker’s wholly dependent grandparents and disabled siblings.
If the deceased employee leaves no wholly dependent beneficiaries, individuals who were partially dependent on the worker may receive death benefits. However, partial dependents cannot receive death benefits from more than one deceased employee.
If the deceased worker dies without leaving any total or partial dependents, death benefits are limited to payment of the worker’s final medical and funeral expenses (see below).
If the deceased employee died as a result of a workplace injury or exposure, and the disability is continuous from the date of injury until death, then the worker’s dependents are entitled to death benefits equal to two-thirds of the deceased worker’s average weekly earnings at the time of injury. These death benefits may not exceed the state’s maximum death benefit ($783.59 in 2018).
If there are multiple dependents who qualify for benefits, they will share the available benefits in a fair and equitable way, determined on a case-by-case basis by the West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission. However, partial dependents may receive a maximum of $50 per month.
If the worker was receiving permanent total disability payments and died of a cause other than a work-related injury, the worker’s dependents are entitled to benefits totaling 104 times the deceased worker’s weekly disability benefits at the time of the worker’s death. These benefits are shared jointly by the deceased’s dependents, who can choose whether to receive this financial support as a lump sum or in periodic payments.
The worker’s family members are also entitled to funeral costs, up to $7,000.
A surviving spouse of the deceased worker receives benefits until the spouse’s death or remarriage. The worker’s children receive death benefits until they are 18, or until they are 25 if enrolled in school full time. However, disabled children receive benefits for as long as they have a disability.
The worker’s surviving parents receive death benefits until their death, if the worker left no spouse or qualifying children. If the worker leaves no surviving spouse, children or parents, the worker’s wholly-dependent grandparents and disabled siblings receive death benefits for up to six years after the worker’s death. Finally, partial dependents may receive death benefits for a portion of the six-year period, as determined on a case-by-case basis..
A deceased worker’s survivors must file a claim for death benefits within six months from the employee’s death when the death was caused by a work-related injury, or within one year from the worker’s death when the death was a result of occupational exposure.
If you’re having trouble collecting death benefits, consult with a lawyer. To learn more, see our article on hiring a West Virginia worker’ comp lawyer.