When a worker is injured on the job here in Pennsylvania, there are several types of benefits available through the workers’ compensation system. These benefits include not only payments for lost wages and medical care, but also benefits for specific losses as well as death benefits. The latter are, of course, particularly important for those who’ve had a loved one as a result of a workplace injury.
Death benefits are available to dependant survivors of a deceased worker, which would certainly include a deceased worker’s spouse. According to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Handbook, the surviving spouse must have been living with the worker at the time of the worker’s death or have been actually dependent on the worker. Another important point is that a couple need not have been married in a typical manner in order for a surviving spouse to receive workers’ compensation death benefits.
This can be seen in a recent Pennsylvania case in which the common-law wife of a ski resort who died in a workplace accident was not immediately given benefits because of a dispute over whether she qualified as a surviving spouse. In this case, the couple had apparently gone through a traditional Native American marriage ceremony, but did not file joint tax returns for a number of years since they were under the impression that they had to wait 7 years to be recognized as being in a common law marriage. At the time of the worker’s death, it had been over 7 years since the couple entered into a common-law marriage. Because of this, the woman was ultimately awarded death benefits.
Death benefits are an important resource for the survivors of a deceased worker, and when problems arise in obtaining them, it is important to work with an experienced attorney for assistance.
Source: Business Insider, “Ski resort worker's common-law wife entitled to death benefits,” Stephanie Goldberg, April 9, 2015