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West Virginia Mine Explosion Brings to Light Workplace Accident Survivor Benefits

Last week, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) released the results of its investigation into the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in West Virginia on April 5, 2010, where 29 men lost their lives. In one of the worst American coal mining disasters in U.S. history, the agency found the conditions that led to the explosion were “systematic, intentional, and aggressive efforts by PCC/Massey [owners of the mine] to avoid compliance with safety and health standards, and to thwart detection of that non-compliance by federal and state regulators.”

“Today’s report brings to light the tragic consequences of a corporate culture that values production over people,” said MSHA Assistant Secretary Joseph A. Main.

PCC/Massey was fined over $10 million, the largest fine in MSHA’s history, and agreed to pay nearly $210 million towards safety measures at the mines, set up a trust fund for improvements in mine safety and health, pay outstanding civil penalties for all former Massey mines and make restitution payments to the victims’ families.

Fortunately, the United States has safety standards and regulations in placeto protect the rights of employees and their families.The federal and state organizations focus on uncovering violations and holding companies responsible for jeopardizing the health and welfare of their employees.

Individual employees and their families are afforded benefits and compensation, in the case of a Massachusetts workplace injury, under Massachusetts state law.Massachusetts workers’ compensation is a “no fault,” comprehensive program, which means that employers are required to have insurance in place for the protection of workers who suffer a job-related injury or disabling condition, or for survivor benefits in the case of a death.

For surviving spouses and dependents of workers who are killed due to a work-related accident or illness, workers’ compensation benefits are available for an extended period of time. The available survivor benefits include:

  • A surviving spouse (who remains unmarried) is eligible to receive a weekly compensation equal to 66.67% (two-thirds) of the deceased worker’s average weekly wage, up to the maximum set by the state. The minimum benefit is $110 per week.
  • Children under age 18, full-time students or older children unable to work due to a physical or mental disability are eligible for compensation.
  • A surviving spouse may receive an additional weekly payment for each child, up to a maximum of $150.
  • Burial expenses, up to $4,000, will be paid by the workers’ compensation.

While the survivors cannot sue the employer responsible for the death of their loved one, it is possible to bring a lawsuit against other companies that may have been responsible for the accident. Also, as in the case with PCC/Massey, the state or government may require the company to pay additional benefits to the surviving spouse and dependents.

The Massachusetts’ workers’ compensation system is designed to ensure that survivors of workers who died in an on-the-job accident receive the compensation to which they are entitled. However, some employers will dispute the compensation, leaving the survivor, who is already struggling to cope with the tragedy, facing a legal battle over benefits.

It is critical to contact an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer if you have lost a loved one during an accident at work.The MA workplace injury attorneys at Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C.,know the complexities of the Massachusetts’ workplace laws and our attorneys will work on behalf of our clients to secure the benefits their family needs to move on with their lives.

About Our Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyers

For more than 20 years, Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C., has represented the interests of injured and ill workers throughout Massachusetts, including but not limited to Boston, Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Plymouth and Merrimack River. We also represent Rhode Island and New Hampshire residents whose injuries occurred in Massachusetts or who were hired in Massachusetts but who were injured out of state.

For a free case evaluation of your workers’ compensation claim, please complete our online form or call Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C., toll-free at (800) 367-0871 to speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.