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Workers' compensation benefits payable to decedent's family

A workplace accident causing death activates a right to workers' compensation death benefits payable to the deceased worker's immediate family members. To determine the specific benefits available, the state statute must be consulted because the specific amounts and conditions may vary from state to state. Despite that variance, the workers' compensation benefits made available in Colorado follow a similar framework as in all of the other states.

On April 25 a 21-year-old dairy worker died while operating a skid loader. Coincidentally, this was just a few days prior to the April 28 worldwide Workers' Memorial Day that is a day of memory dedicated to workers who have lost their lives while performing work duties. This is a time for workers and employers to stop, think and focus, and to re-dedicate toward the prevention and substantial reduction of such tragedies.

In the April 25 incident, which occurred in South Dakota, the dairy worker was operating a skid loader when he reportedly may have tried to get off of the skid when it pinned him down. The sheriff of the county where the accident happened reported that the man was pinned under the arms of the loader. The sheriff said that all safety features were working, but the machine "went down" anyway.

The OSHA office indicated that it would check out the occurrence but didn't know whether the company was large enough to be within its jurisdiction. The business location where the incident occurred has 25 employees, along with 1,500 cows that are milked daily. The business is apparently a co-op jointly owned by several neighbors in the vicinity.

In addition to the workers' compensation death benefits, this may be a case where there is a viable third-party tort claim. If a third party is a substantial cause of the accident, monetary damages may possibly be collectible over and above compensation benefits. One case that would qualify would be a defective product claim. This includes defective machinery, including the skid loader that may have malfunctioned in this case. The rules on product liability are generally the same here in Colorado as in all other jurisdictions.

Source: Argus Leader, "Update: Man, 21, dies in skid loader accident at Turner County Dairy", Michael Klinski and Jon Walker, April 26, 2014

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