One type of benefit in the workers’ compensation system is the dependency benefit. This type of benefit is paid to the dependent survivors of an employee who died of injuries sustained on the job. In Minnesota, these benefits are legally separate and distinct from the right of the employee to recover during her lifetime. These rights do not exist until and unless the employee dies due to her work-related injuries. During the employee’s lifetime, dependents have no independent right to compensation.
A dependent’s right to compensation comes into being (“vests” in legal jargon) on the date of the employee’s death. The law in Minnesota contains a presumption that three classes of individuals are dependents: spouses who are living together, children under the age of 18, and children under the age of 25 who are full-time students. In addition, children age 18 and over may be considered dependents if they are physically or mentally disabled and not able to work.
For spouses who wish to recover as dependents, a couple rules exist. First, Minnesota does not recognize common law marriage. In some states, if a couple lives together long enough, they may be considered married under the eyes of the law. This is not the case in Minnesota where spouses must actually go through the ceremony to be considered married. One exception is if a couple had a valid common law marriage in another state. In this case, the spouse may be able to claim workers’ comp benefits.
The other rule is that, in order to recover, spouses may not be voluntarily living apart. This means that one spouse freely chose to live apart from the other and the choice was not influenced by outside causes. One example of a case where the court ruled that a couple was involuntarily living apart was Meyer v. A.B. McMahan Co. (Minn. 1964). In this case, the wife had left her home because of her husband’s alcohol problem. The court determined that this was not a voluntary choice, and allowed her to recover a dependent benefit.
If you have a loved one who recently passed away due to a work injury, you may be entitled to compensation. When one income-earning member of the family dies suddenly, it can put an enormous financial and emotional strain on the family. We can help you get your life back on track and get the assistance that you need. Give us a call: 612-ASK-DAVE