Prepare To Effectively Manage Death Claims – And Hope You Never Have To

Prepare To Effectively Manage Workplace Death Claims – And Hope You Never Have ToIt is a horrible tragedy when an employee is killed at work.  While we hope this never happens, over 6,000 people are killed every year in workplace accidents.  This averages out to about 14 workplace death claims per day and nearly 100 per week.


The impact of an employee death is heart wrenching and impactful for an organization.  It is essential for members of the claims management team to understand how to effectively deal with workplace deaths.



Conducting an Effective Death Claim Investigation


It is important to conduct an effective and prompt investigation once someone is killed due to a workplace incident.  In addition to the steps normally taken, it is important to obtain the following information:


  • Reports regarding the incident. This includes police and ambulance reports.  Other important documents include OSHA generated forms and safety logs, along with information concerning any tools or equipment involved.  Make sure no evidence is destroyed.


  • Determine whom may be entitled to benefits. This includes the marital status of the deceased employee, information concerning their dependents and the location of where these people were living.  Questions often arise when the employee and their spouse are separated or are in the process of getting a divorce.  Domestic partnership status is also important to know and understand.


  • Validate important documents concerning family relationships. This is important in cases where marriage or parentage is not clear-cut.


Most workers’ compensation laws require a workplace death is reported to the state industrial commission within 24 to 48 hours of the incident.  Ensure the proper report is made in a timely manner.



Dealing With Other Special Issues


Determining issues of a spousal relationship or parentage can become complex issues.  This is the result of the chaining definition of what constitutes a family, dependents and the legalization of same-sex marriages.  When investigating these issues, members of the claims management teams should closely scrutinize the following issues:


  • Establishment of residence: In many jurisdictions, marriage to another person does not automatically qualify the spouse for dependency benefits.  If the couple is separated (even not in a legal sense), the survivor may be excluded from additional compensation;


  • Recognition of marriage: This issue can arise in several different instances.  The most common is couples who were married under “common law” in a jurisdiction that recognizes such practices but later moves to a location that does not recognize that form of marriage.


  • Parentage: The increased use of genetic testing has helped resolve some of these issues over the years.  However, questions may still remain if there was not legal recognition of the relationship prior to death.  Legal battles may ensue of the deceased employee is cremated prior to testing being performed.



Most Important: Demonstrate Care in Difficult Situation


Demonstrating care and empathy is critically important in the face of a tragic death claim. Steps to prepare your organization include:


  • Create a dedicated team to handle all workplace death claims. This will allow for others on the team to better allocate their time on other cumbersome files and allow for a more effective response.


  • Educate employers and other interested parties on workplace safety issues. This is especially true when working with employers who fall into high-risk categories.  This includes construction jobs that involve employees working at heights, the operation of dangerous equipment and machinery and those who work in the lumber and logging industries.


  • Go beyond what is required by the law. This can include random acts of kindness such as sending flowers to the next-of-kin.  Members of the claims management team should also avoid blaming the deceased employee – it was someone’s son or daughter who died.


  • Promote efforts that go beyond safety training. Encourage interested stakeholders to look beyond the incident and understand the events leading up to the fatal incident.



Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center.



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Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.




A workplace death is an event all employers hope they never experience.  However, it is important for members of the claims management team to be properly prepared.

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