When an employee dies due to an occupational illness, his or her surviving spouse may be awarded benefits. Additionally, the surviving spouse may be granted attorneys’ fees. Recently, a New Jersey court assessed the proper method for calculating attorney’s fees in a case in which the claimant’s husband died due to an illness sustained at work. If you lost your spouse due to a work-related injury or illness, you may be able to recover workers’ compensation benefits and should speak to a knowledgeable New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible.

Facts and Procedural History

It is reported that the claimant’s husband died due to an occupational disease, after which she filed a claim for workers’ compensation death benefits. The court issued an order granting benefits as well as attorneys’ fees that were calculated based on the claimant’s life expectancy. The employer appealed, arguing that the court erred in calculating the appropriate award for attorneys’ fees. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the lower court ruling.

Calculation of Attorneys’ Fees in Workers’ Compensation Claims

The New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act provides that compensation for a total permanent disability should be paid to qualified workers for 450 weeks, and may be extended in instances where the claimant can show that his or her disability caused an inability to earn an income equal to that which he or she earned at the time of the accident or onset of illness. Additionally, the law provides that any dependents that survive a deceased worker will be granted benefits as well, for 450 weeks and, in some cases, longer.

Neither of the provision regarding disabled workers and their dependents refers to spouses, however. Rather, the statute was amended to state that a surviving spouse shall be paid compensation during the entire period of his or her survivorship. In the subject case, however, the defendant argued that the calculation of attorneys’ fees based on the life expectancy of the claimant, which best estimated the amount that she would be paid, was speculative, as the benefits would cease if she died or remarried.

Rather, the defendant argued the 450 week period was more appropriate for calculating such fees. The court was not persuaded by this argument, finding that there was nothing in the statutory language that linked the attorneys’ fees granted to a spouse to the 450 week time period under which dependents may be awarded benefits. Instead, the statute regarding counsel fees merely stated that they must be approved by a judge and were subject to a cap. As such, the trial court ruling was affirmed.

Meet with a Trusted New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Attorney

Workplace deaths often not only cause emotional trauma but also leave surviving family members at a financial disadvantage. If you lost your spouse due to an occupational injury or illness, you may be able to file a workers’ compensation death claim and should speak to a lawyer. The trusted New Jersey workers’ compensation attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall are skilled at handling claims on behalf of bereaved family members of employees who lost their lives due to work conditions, and we can assist you in fighting to protect your rights. You can contact us at 800-999-0897 or through the form online to set up a meeting.