Do You Know the Rule? N.C. Test for Whether Illegitimate Child may Collect WC Benefits

                               

Charlotte, NC (WorkersCompensation.com) -- It is not only injured employees who can recover worker’s compensation benefits. If an employee dies from his injury, his dependents may be able to recover benefits as well. 

In North Carolina, the ability to recover benefits even extends, in some cases, to illegitimate children of the deceased employee. 

The state’s worker’s compensation statute provides that persons wholly dependent for support upon the earnings of the deceased employee at the time of the accident shall be entitled to receive the entire compensation payable share. 

However, a court won’t presume that an acknowledged, illegitimate child is wholly dependent on the deceased. To collect funds, therefore, the child will need to show both elements in the chart below. 

 
N.C. Test for Illegitimate Children 
The decedent acknowledged an illegitimate child in sufficient fashion; and 
 The child was substantially dependent on decedent. 

In an illustrative case, a trucker ran off the road, hit a telephone pole, and died of chest injuries. One of his children sought worker’s compensation benefits as a dependent. 

In North Carolina Indust. Comm’n v. J.F. Honeycutt & Sons, Inc.,  (N.C. Ct. App. 12/29/22), the court held that, while the child was born out of wedlock, the driver had both acknowledged the child and provided a large portion of her financial support. 

Acknowledged 

In finding that the trucker acknowledged the child in sufficient fashion, the court pointed to the following: 

  • The driver held the child out to be his daughter to others and in all relevant aspects.  
  • The driver introduced her to his family and the public as his daughter. 
  • The driver took her to school events such as "Doughnuts with Dad.” 
  • The driver’s obituary listed her as his surviving daughter.  
  • The driver was aware of the possibility she was not his biological daughter, but consciously chose not to take a paternity test because he viewed her as his daughter. 

Dependent 

The court explained that there is no bright line rule as to whether an illegitimate child is wholly dependent on a deceased employee. “North Carolina law, however, does not require mathematical certainty or a minimum percentage of support to show a child was substantially dependent,” the court wrote.  

The question is whether the child was substantially dependent on the financial support of the decedent as compared with all other sources of financial support. The court, in finding dependence, noted the following: 

  • The child lived with driver nine months out of the year, and relied on him for clothes, school supplies, and basic needs.  
  • The child was listed on the driver’s health and life insurance policies 
  • The driver contributed to her bills and expenses.  

“[The child] substantially relied on Decedent's financial support by residing with Decedent for at least nine months out of the year and depending on Decedent to provide for her basic needs during that time without receiving any support from” the biological mother, the court wrote.  

The court affirmed the commission’s award of benefits to the child, amounting to $243.29 weekly from June 2018 and continuing for 500 weeks or until the child turned 18. 

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