Workplace Injuries

Worker fatalities: your rights when the worst happens

April 28, 2021
Worker driving a truck

We know losing a family member, whether it be a husband, wife, de facto spouse, child, mother or father, is distressing.

When a loved one leaves for work, we expect them to come home afterwards. But for hundreds of families, this hasn’t happened, and the emotional and financial toll is overwhelming.

It’s important to know that if the death of a family member is from a work-related injury or illness, you may be able to claim for dependency if needed.

Does WorkCover cover death?

If a loved one was to die because of a workplace accident, injury or illness, the dependents or family may make be able to make a WorkCover claim.

If successful, they may receive a lump sum payment or quarterly payments for dependents as well as reasonable expenses to cover the cost of a funeral.

But to be successful, family members and dependants must prove:

  1. They were dependent on the person who died, and
  2. That the cause of death was due to their work.

This may include providing an autopsy report, death certificate or coroner’s inquest report. They may also wish to consider financial statements that show they were dependent.

Who can claim dependency?

A “dependant” is defined by the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003. Financial dependants include children under 18 years old, undertaking full-time study and those over 18 years old with reduced mental capacity.

Persons recognised as a member of the deceased’s family include:

  • A child, grandchild, or stepchild of the deceased
  • Someone who received parental care from the deceased
  • Someone who acted in the role of a parent to the deceased, or
  • A spouse, de facto partner (for at least two years), or a partner at the time of death.

It’s important to know that only a single action can be brought for compensation following the death of a family member, so it’s strongly encouraged to consider all of the potential financial impacts in one go. Usually, the family nominates a single representative to represent them in the claims process.

Understanding and defining dependants can be tricky, so it’s best to seek legal advice as soon as possible.  

What is included in a dependency claim?

A dependency claim is for any loss of financial support and benefit that the deceased provided and would have continued to provide to their recognised dependents.

A claim will be calculated based on what the dependents could expect to have received throughout their life. They’ll generally also be able to claim for any relevant funeral or medical expenses. In some cases, a claim may also be made for the loss of services due to the death, like household maintenance, housekeeping, and gardening, as well as things like mending, or teaching.

Unfortunately, while this will be a difficult time, a dependency claim can’t compensate for sadness or sorrow. Note: if the death has taken place in your presence or in a way that directly affects you, you may be able to make a separate claim under negligence for nervous shock.

What if it wasn’t my loved one’s fault?

Too often we see clients whose lives have been impacted by the negligent actions of their employers.

If a loved one’s death at work resulted directly from their employer’s negligence, a common law claim may be made against the employer. However, it must be proven that the death could’ve been prevented by reasonable actions of the employer, such as establishing better systems of work or better training systems, using different equipment or by adhering to policies.

Are there time limits?

Unfortunately, yes. The legislation states that dependents have three years from the date of the death to start a claim.

While you may be grieving, it’s important to start this process as this as soon as you feel able to, given that claims do take time to process and finalise.

Support services

Dealing with a death in the family is no easy task. Knowing what to do or where to turn to can be difficult. Everyone grieves differently, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. If you need support, there are plenty grief services available. Some of these include:

Profile Picture of Greg Smith

Greg is our Founder and Principal Lawyer, based on the Gold Coast. He has worked exclusively in compensation law since opening Smith’s Lawyers in 1996.

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Disclaimer: This information is designed for general information in relation to Queensland compensation law. It does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you seek legal advice in regards to your specific situation.

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