An Injustice Even in Death

February 24, 2014

MassCOSH board member Melissa King is fighting to spare families that have recently lost a loved one on the job a second tragedy. Having lost her own father from a work fatality at Logan Airport, the King family was forced to spend thousands of dollars on a funeral that came decades too soon. However, thanks to the advocacy of King and many other impacted family members and supporters, Massachusetts families may no longer need to sacrifice their savings or borrow funds to honor their lost loved one.

With the active support of MassCOSH members, the Mass. Bar Association and the Mass. Association of Trial Attorneys, an Act Providing for Burial Benefits under Workers’ Compensation (H1698, SB866) made it through the first hoop: it was voted favorably out of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. If passed, the new legislation would increase workers’ compensation funeral benefits from $4,000 to almost $9,000.

“After my dad passed away, the last thing we wanted to be thinking about was financial matters, but we had no choice,” said King. “While we received burial benefits from workers' comp, they did not even come close to covering the costs. My mom was too devastated to continue working and had to leave her job.  I had to quit my job in Rhode Island and come home and take care of my family.  Being able to at least cover the costs of my father's funeral would have been one less thing to worry about during such an awful time in our lives.”

According to the 2012 funeral price survey by the National Funeral Directors Association, the average funeral cost for an adult funeral was $8,343. With cemetery plot, grave marker, flowers or obituary notices, the “regular adult funeral” cost is well over that amount. Yet if a worker is killed on the job, families can only count on workers’ compensation to provide a maximum of $4,000 to defer these costs. For King, Kim Flynn, and others who lost a family on the job, these paltry benefits offer little condolence.

“The wake alone for [my daughter] Stephanie was $7,800. We had to cremate her to save costs,” said Flynn. “We had to hold a fundraising event to pay for the funeral costs.”

Now the bill is being considered by the House Committee on Ways and Means.
“Moving the bill through the Ways and Means Committee is a critical next step,” said MassCOSH Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, after a series of meetings with House and Senate leaders. “Of course, MassCOSH members and allies have made a very compelling case for the need for this law and we would be surprised if the bill does not move forward”

As supporters point out, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone opposing the legislation.

“As an attorney who concentrates my practice in representing injured workers before the Department of Industrial Accidents, I have seen in my practice families who have lost a loved one at the work place,” said Judson L. Pierce, attorney at Pierce, Pierce & Napolitano and Chair of the Massachusetts Association of Trial Attorneys’ workers compensation committee. “They struggle to find any peace and worry about their futures. This legislation has been endorsed by insurers, employers, the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council and by the Massachusetts Bar Association, an Association that has as its membership, plaintiff’s lawyers, defense lawyers and judges. It is time that tragedy does not strike a family twice. It is time that a loved one who is killed on the job be given a funeral that is in line with what it actually costs.”

As compelling as the bill is, thousands of bills are filed each year that are unable to make it through the legislative process, which effectively ends at the end of July.  In the coming weeks, MassCOSH will be meeting with State House and Senate leaders to again state their case and stress the need for elected officials to shield families from burdening the brunt of funeral costs when a loved one is killed in a preventable work accident.

“The loss of a loved one is hard enough on a family without having to worry about burial costs,” said Senator Brian A. Joyce, the Senate lead sponsor. “When a worker loses his or her life on the job, the families left behind deserve enough compensation to put their loved one to rest and begin to heal.”
“An increase in the burial benefits allowance is long overdue”, seconds Representative Garrett Bradley, the House lead sponsor. “Families that suffer such a tremendous loss should not be saddled with the additional burden of worrying about paying for funeral arrangements.”  

Act Providing for Burial Benefits under Workers’ Compensation needs to pass in order to prevent any more suffering, but we can't do it without your help. Click here to find the contact info for your area's elected official and tell them you support H1698, SB866.