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Employee Deaths on the Job: What Benefits Do Ohio and Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Provide?

The saddest day at Lawrence & Associates is when our attorneys sit down with a grieving widow, widower, or family member to discuss the workplace death of a loved one. Injuries are bad enough – always painful, often debilitating – but injuries can heal. When a family member dies, however, we are left with the difficult task of explaining how the Workers’ Compensation law compensates for a death the cold math and dollars and cents. Often called “survivors’ benefits,” they do anything but make the survivor whole. However, since our firm is located in the Cincinnati area and therefore workers with deceased workers’ families in both Kentucky and Ohio, we have seen big differences in how the law handles compensation for employee’s deaths. The deficiencies in the Workers’ Compensation system for these tragedies may shock you.

Worker Deaths in Ohio – What Benefits are Owed to the Family?

Ohio’s Workers’ Compensation system has three types of benefits. There is a death benefit that is paid to the deceased workers’ estate in one lump sum, a provision for payment of all medical bills incurred before death, and a benefit to dependents that is paid on a weekly or bi-weekly basis from the date of the worker’s death onward. Of these three, the medical benefit is the easiest to describe – 100% of all medical bills must be paid directly to the provider. No money goes to the deceased’s estate or family related to the medical bills.

The death benefit in Ohio is truly shocking – Ohio Revised Code 4123.66 only allows $5,500 dollars for funeral expenses, and no other amount for the deceased workers’ pain and suffering or loss of future earnings. Compare this to a person that dies in a car accident, who can sometimes get millions of dollars for pain and suffering or loss of future earnings. Assume, for a moment, that a 40 year person earns $10/hour and is killed. Even if you only paid their family for their loss of future earnings going forward with no allowance for inflation or wage raises, that 40 year old would earn $561,600 before reaching social security retirement age. The $5,500 offered by Ohio’s Workers’ Compensation system is paltry by comparison, and many commenters have observed that it makes it cheaper for a company to kill a worker than to injure the worker. Unfortunately, until Ohio’s state legislature changes this law, Ohio workers are stuck with a $5,500 death benefit.

Ohio is friendlier to the dependents of the deceased worker, so long as those dependents are spouses or children. Under ORC 4123.59, both receive two-thirds of the “average weekly wage” the worker had before he or she died. Spouses receive this money until they re-marry, at which time they receive two years of this benefit as a lump sum and then cease receiving it. Children receive this benefit until they turn eighteen, unless they are in school (in which case the benefit continues until the child turns twenty-five), or unless the child is incapable of having a job for other reasons (such as a physical or mental disability). However, fully dependent parents or siblings of the deceased worker cannot receive any benefit whatsoever.

The failings of Ohio’s system are laid bare when you consider the example of June. June was a civil engineer. She worked her way through school and, by age 30, she had an excellent job with a construction company making $120,000 per year. She was responsible for caring for her younger brother, who had severe mental retardation, and who lived with her. (Her parents had died several years before.) But June was killed in an on-site accident at age 33. Because her brother is not provided for by statute, and because June’s small family did not have the resources to care for him, he was forced to go to an assisted living facility. And because Ohio’s laws provide such a poor death benefit, June’s death was compensated only by paying $5,500 – which covered only 75% of her funeral costs. Surely there has to be a better way.

Worker Deaths in Kentucky – What Benefits are Owed to the Family?

Much like Ohio, Kentucky’s system provides for full payment of all medical bills, a death benefit, and a weekly or bi-weekly benefit to the deceased worker’s dependents. However, Kentucky’s provisions are much more generous. First, Kentucky’s death benefit is updated every year to account for inflation, and as of 2018 is currently sits at $83,336.22. This amount is paid directly into the deceased workers’ estate. Kentucky’s Department of Workers’ Claims updates the death benefit on their website every year.

In addition, Kentucky Revised Code 342.750 provides benefits to more people than Ohio’s law does. General guidelines are as follows:

  1. In Kentucky, a surviving spouse with no children gets 50% of the deceased employee’s average weekly wage. Upon remarriage, the spouse also receives a two year lump sum.
  2. If there are surviving children and a surviving spouse, the spouse gets 45% if the kids live with him or her, and 40% if not. The children get 15% for each child, not to exceed 30% total. If there are more than two children, each child gets an equal share of 30% of the average weekly wage. The child’s benefit ends when the child turns eighteen, unless they are in school (in which case the benefit continues until the child turns twenty-two), or unless the child is incapable of having a job for other reasons (such as a physical or mental disability).
  3. Actually dependent siblings, parents, and grandparents can receive 25% of the deceased workers’ average weekly wage.

Considering June’s example, above, it is easy to see that Kentucky’s system is superior. The death benefit would have more than covered the funeral expenses, and would have created a nest egg for a family member to help take care of June’s brother. And the weekly benefit for June’s brother would have continued to provide June’s family a way to care for him going forward. While both Ohio’s and Kentucky’s systems could use some tweaking and updating, Kentucky does a far better job of taking care of its’ deceased workers’ families.

If you have any other questions about Survivor Benefits in Workers’ Compensation cases, please call our Fort Mitchell, Kentucky office at 859-371-5997 or our West Chester, Ohio office at 513-351-5997. We are one of the largest workers’ compensation firms in Greater Cincinnati and we have helped over 3,000 clients. We’re Working Hard for the Working Class, and we want to help you!