Illinois workers’ compensation law sets rules for when workers can get benefits after a job injury. In the case of an employee who suffers a fatal work accident, the law provides death benefits to the spouse, children and dependents of the worker.

Like any Illinois work injury, a fatal injury also needs to meet the requirement that it arises out of and in the course of employment. That’s just the legal way of saying that the injury must happen at work while you are performing duties that are part of the job. You don’t necessarily need to be at your employer’s office or performing your specific job duties in order to qualify for benefits. If you were doing something for the benefit of your employer, it likely falls into the right category.

A few examples: A heart attack at work, or at home right after work, may be covered if you can connect it to the job and show what caused the heart attack. Benefits are usually available regardless of fault, so if your loved one wasn’t following safety rules when the accident happened, it shouldn’t matter. On the other hand, blatant goofing off, drinking on the job, etc., is not covered in most cases.

Available benefits include related medical bills and funeral expenses. If there is a surviving spouse, minor child, or other financially dependent family member, the insurance company has to pay death benefits, which can be more than $500,000 in some cases. The dependent family member has to prove that they are financially dependent and to what extent. Their recovery of death benefits will be in proportion to how much they relied on the employee. Minor children and spouses do not have to prove anything.

Keep in mind that death benefits – and all Illinois workers’ compensation benefits – are only available to employees and the families of employees. Independent contractors are not eligible. That said, don’t assume that your loved one was what your employer said they were. It’s not up to the employer to classify them one way or the other. The law decides. If the employer exercised a lot of control of the worker’s schedule, work product, equipment, etc., then he or she was likely an employee. We’ve been able to prove this in truck driver cases. Many truck drivers are hired as “independent contractors,” but they are treated more like employees, which makes them employees under the law and eligible for benefits, including death benefits.

Another option is a third-party lawsuit. If someone other than the employer was responsible for the death, then they can be held liable in Illinois. Your attorney should explore both possibilities – workers’ compensation death benefits and a personal injury lawsuit. Just keep in mind that you can’t sue an employer after a work accident. Illinois workers’ compensation law protects employers from lawsuits.

Make sure your lawyer not only understands death benefits under Illinois workers’ compensation law, but that they have handled similar cases in the past and done so successfully. It’s definitely not a routine case, and it’s appropriate to ask if your attorney has death benefits experience. Your lawyer shouldn’t earn a fee unless they win benefits for you. In fact, Illinois caps lawyer fees in these cases, so don’t hesitate to get legal advice.