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Are workers' compensation death benefits available in Colorado?

When someone passes away and leaves a husband or wife, kids and sometimes other relatives who depended on the deceased person's wages to meet their needs, the loss of that income because of the worker's death could potentially bring financial devastation. Luckily, when a family provider dies from work-related injuries or occupational diseases, surviving dependents may be eligible for payment of death benefits under Colorado workers' compensation laws.

Death benefit eligibility

Who is an eligible dependent of the deceased worker is determined as of the date of the injury that led to death. Who gets death benefits and how much depends on whether the family members were wholly or partially dependant on the deceased and on family relationship and family composition.

The amount of benefit if paid out in regular payments over time is related to the worker's average weekly wage. Eligible dependents also have the option of a one-time lump-sum payout.

Reasonable burial and funeral expenses are also covered up to a maximum of $7,000 to the cemetery, undertaker or anyone else who paid for those services.

Death must have been work related

To get death benefits, the surviving dependents must show that the injury or disease that led to death arose out of and in the course of employment - in other words, that the death was actually related to work activity. Proving the work-death connection is not always easy.

For example, in one recent Colorado case covered by The Wall Street Journal, the employer's workers' compensation insurer denied a widow's claim based on the death of her husband, an oil worker, who had been found unconscious while slumped over an oil tank hatch. The insurer had cited the worker's history of heart disease and diabetes when it denied the death benefit claim, but on review, a Colorado administrative law judge found the death was work related and the surviving spouse entitled to ongoing death benefits of approximately $530 per week.

The mysterious death was similar to those of several other oil workers nationally, which had put federal health officials and work-safety professionals on alert to discover whether there was a common cause. Ultimately, this kind of death was linked to exposure to a thick plume of hydrocarbon chemicals released from the oil tank through the hatch when the worker opened it to take samples or measurements.

Seek legal advice in a death claim

The law that applies to Colorado workers' compensation death benefits is quite complicated. Any surviving relative who was wholly or partially dependent on a worker who dies from work-related injury or disease should seek legal advice as soon as possible about benefit eligibility and filing an application. If a surviving family member has already filed a claim that was denied, an attorney can help determine options for review and appeal.

Our firm represents workers' compensation claimants, both injured workers and surviving relatives in death cases, throughout Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and surrounding areas.

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