Could Deceased Worker’s Adult Son get Death Benefits?

10 Jul, 2024 Chris Parker

What Do You Think?

Chester, IL ( – In Illinois, a dependent of a worker who dies as a result of a workplace accident may be entitled to death benefits. A dependent generally includes a child of the worker. But what if that child was an adult at the time of the accident? 

A case involving a food-service worker who fell unconscious at work tackles that question. The employer found him on the ground covered with cornstarch. The worker was taken to a hospital, where he died.

His son, who was 25 at the time of the accident, sought death benefits under the state’s workers’ compensation act. The son had long struggled with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, which interfered with his ability to complete his education or hold a job and earn income.

The son testified that his father was supporting him with regard to a vehicle, daily necessities, bills, food, gas, and medical expenses. His mother, who had divorced the father years earlier, testified that, after making child support payments until son turned 18, the father continued to provide his son financial support.

The employer challenged the trial court’s determination that the son was a dependent entitled to death benefits.

A dependent, the appeals court explained, includes a person who, at the time of the accident, was “in any manner dependent upon the earnings of the employee.” Such a dependent is entitled to payments of weekly death benefits. 820 ILCS 305/7(c).

Was the deceased employee’s son a ‘dependent?’

A. Yes. His father paid for many of his expenses, which, because of his medical conditions, he would not have been able to pay on his own. 

B. No. At the time of his death, because his son was 25 years old, he had no legal obligation to support him.

If you selected A, you agreed with the court in Gilster Mary-Lee Corp. v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, No. 5-23-0479WC (Ill Ct. App. Div. 03/29/24), which found that the son, while he was well beyond age 18 at the time of the employee’s death, greatly depended on his father for his daily survival.

The court pointed to the son’s serious medical diagnoses, which, according to the son and his mother, impaired his ability to hold a job. The testimony also indicated that the employee made it possible for his son to engage in daily tasks, helping with food, gas, and medical expenses.

The court rejected the employer’s argument that the son could not be a dependent because the son was 25 and therefore his father had no legal obligation to support him. It also rejected the assertion that the son was not a dependent because he could have obtained some type of job and was thus not fully dependent on the father. 

The court observed that the son was not required to show either that the father was legally obligated to support him or that he was completely dependent on his father to demonstrate that the son was a “dependent.”

“Section 7(c) requires only that an individual be ‘in any manner dependent upon the earnings of the employee,’” the court wrote.

The court affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the son was a dependent entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits.

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