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Illinois workers' compensation benefits for work-related death

Under Illinois workers' compensation law, when an employee dies from a work-related accident, injury or disease, their spouse and certain other surviving loved ones may be entitled to death benefits. In our last blog, we described a new Illinois law that fixes a loophole in workers' compensation benefits for asbestos-related diseases from occupational exposure.

The new law allows employees with occupational illnesses from asbestos or radiation exposure to file lawsuits against their employers if the disease manifests after 25 years from exposure, including suits for wrongful death from the conditions.

Death benefits basics

Normally, (and if illness from asbestos or radiation occurs before 25 years from exposure), when an Illinois worker suffers a work-related death, certain survivors are eligible for benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act:

  • Burial costs: The employer pays $8,000 for the expenses of burial to the surviving spouse, "other dependent, next of kin" or whomever paid for the burial.
  • Benefits earned: Designated survivors have a separate claim for benefits granted for payment during life and still unpaid and owing, even if the death was not work related.
  • Medical expenses incurred: Designated survivors or the party who paid for first aid, medical services or hospitalization before death are eligible to have those costs reimbursed if workers' compensation did not already pay.
  • Ongoing benefits: Depending on the recipient, ongoing benefits will be paid at the same intervals the deceased worker was paid or weekly. The survivors can also request a lump-sum or partial lump-sum payout if in the spouse's or other eligible beneficiaries best interest.

Eligible surviving loved ones

Illinois law is complicated about who is eligible for death benefits. Generally, they are paid as follows:

  • If there is a surviving spouse or children, the spouse will receive lifetime benefits or they would end at remarriage, but if there is no child eligible for benefits at the remarriage, the widow or widower gets a lump sum of two years of benefits at remarriage. Children are eligible until 18 (but a minimum of six years of benefits are paid if eligibility begins before 18) or 25 if they are full time students. If the surviving spouse dies before the children's benefits end, the children's benefits continue until eligibility ends. An incapacitated child is eligible until the disability ends, even into adulthood. All ongoing benefits are subject to cost-of-living increases.
  • If no surviving spouse or children eligible as just described, totally dependent parents of the deceased are eligible for lifetime benefits.
  • If no surviving spouse, children eligible as described above or totally dependent parents, then partially dependent parents and dependent children not eligible as described above (such as an adult child over 18 or not in school under 25 who was completely or partially dependent) are eligible for eight years of benefits at pro rata rates.
  • If none of the above are eligible, then grandparents or grandchildren or "collateral heirs" who were at least 50% dependent are eligible for five years of pro rata benefits.

This is a broad introduction to the complex topic of Illinois workers' compensation death benefits. A lawyer can fill in details, answer questions and represent a survivor to get the benefits to which they are entitled.  

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