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Wrongful Death Claims and Workers’ Compensation: What Is the Difference?

When a worker is injured while working in Illinois, that worker has the right to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. And when a worker is killed on-the-job in the state—as were 163 workers in Illinois in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—workers’ compensation insurance pays death benefits to the deceased worker’s surviving beneficiaries.

The workers’ compensation system offers a tradeoff to injured workers and their families: in exchange for no-fault benefits (i.e. the worker does not have to prove fault to recover compensation, and may recover benefits regardless of his or her own fault), the worker is simultaneously barred from filing a lawsuit against his or her employer, providing the employer with immunity. But what about when a workplace injury results in death? Can surviving family members file a wrongful death claim?


Fisk & Monteleone Ltd.

Third Party Wrongful Death Suits

Even if a workplace injury results in death, the surviving family members cannot file a claim for damages against the worker’s employer (unless suing for an intentional tort, such as assault). However, surviving family members may recover death benefits under workers’ compensation insurance and file a third party liability wrongful death suit against an at-fault party.

A third party wrongful death suit is a civil action that is filed against an outside party (someone other than the employer), and that alleges that the third party was responsible for the worker’s death. For example, consider a worker who is working at a highway construction site. Unexpectedly, a driver who is driving at an unsafe speed—and in violation of construction zone speed limits—swerves out of control and hits the worker, killing him instantly. While the accident should indeed be covered under workers’ compensation insurance, the surviving family members may also have the right to file a claim directly against the negligent driver.

Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits vs. Wrongful Death Benefits

Death benefits under workers’ compensation insurance do not pay for specific losses; rather, they offer monthly payments, and are paid for 25 years or up to $500,000, whichever is greater. Funeral expenses up to $8,000 are also paid.

Wrongful death benefits in a civil action, on the other hand, are much more comprehensive. Rather than receiving monthly payments, a wrongful death lawsuit may recover damages for:

  • Medical expenses;
  • Funeral expenses;
  • Loss of consortium;
  • Loss of a parent’s society;
  • Loss of support;
  • Loss of earnings, wages, and benefits; and
  • Loss of services.

Meet with a Wrongful Death Attorney Today

Remember, it is rare that you can file a lawsuit against an employer when a workplace accident occurs. But when a workplace accident results in death would not have occurred but for the wrongful actions of an outside third party, you may be able to take civil action. The passionate Illinois wrongful death attorneys at Fisk & Monteleone LTD. can help you learn more about your rights to a civil action today. Call us now at 815-209-9030.