Recently, North Carolina church and labor leaders and families gathered at Raleigh’s Old State Capitol for an interfaith memorial service to call attention to job-related deaths in the state.

A bell rang 183 times, once for each worker death in North Carolina in 2017, the most recent year of available statistics. More North Carolina workers died from job related causes in 2017 than in any year since 2008.

Workers’ compensation can pay death benefits

The families of some employees who die from workplace injuries or illnesses may receive workers’ compensation insurance benefits.

You might think of worker’s comp as a way for employees with job-related injuries or disabilities to pay medical bills or make up for lost wages.

Perhaps thankfully, the death benefits usually covered by workers’ comp are not often top of mind.

Who is covered?

North Carolina requires almost all employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance plans and such plans must cover death benefits.

Employers aren’t required to carry workers’ comp for some kinds of North Carolina workers. Domestic workers such as nannies, home health aides and senior caregivers or housekeepers don’t have to be covered. Neither do farm workers.

Federal employees are also exempt in North Carolina but are likely to be covered by the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA).

What is covered?

Compensation won’t be paid if the employee was under the influence of alcohol (unless supplied by the employer) or drugs (unless prescribed) at the time of the accident.

Ordinarily, benefits will also not be paid if the worker intentionally commits suicide. However, there are important exceptions.

Mental illness and psychological trauma can be occupational injuries according to North Carolina courts. If survivors and their attorneys can prove that the job contributed to a mental condition that caused the suicide, workers’ comp benefits can result.

Disputes sometimes arise about whether a worker’s death was work related or whether the employer’s insurance should not pay for some reason. North Carolina laws specify procedures for such disputes.

Anyone likely to receive death benefits under workers’ comp insurance probably should also consider whether it makes sense to file a wrongful death suit against the employer.