NC: Surviving Spouse Loses Claim for Death Benefits Since She Neither Lived With Nor Was Dependent Upon Worker at Time of His Death

A surviving spouse was not entitled to receive workers’ compensation death benefits where evidence established that she left the family home several years prior to the deceased employee’s death, rarely spoke with him thereafter, did not rely upon him for financial or personal assistance, and had virtually no contact with him during the year prior to his death, held the Court of Appeals of North Carolina [In the matter of Easley (Deceased) v. TLC Cos., 2015 N.C. App. LEXIS 680 (Aug. 4, 2015)]. Accordingly, the court affirmed an Industrial Commission decision that all death benefits be paid to or for the benefit of the minor son of the deceased employee.

The court stressed that in order to be a “widow” under the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act, the decedent’s wife must be “living with or dependent for support upon him at the time of his death; or living apart for justifiable cause or by reason of his desertion at such time” [N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97–2(14)]. The appellate court noted that the Commission found there was no evidence of that the deceased worker was abusive to his wife nor was there any evidence that the worker had a drinking problem. Moreover, the Commission found that the worker did not abandon and/or desert his spouse and that the spouse was not living apart from the worker for any justifiable cause. All these findings were supported by competent evidence.  While the surviving spouse was married to the employee at the time of his death, she did not qualify for benefits.

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