Death in the Workplace
If death occurs while the decedent was on the job, the right to sue may change. Under Pennsylvania's Workers' Compensation Act, an employee who elects to take workers' compensation does not have a right to sue his or her employer for injuries that were sustained in the workplace. If the decedent accepts workers' compensation and gives up the right to sue, beneficiaries or surviving relatives also cannot sue for wrongful death. 77 Pa. Stat. § 481(a).
Employees are any workers under a contract of hire with the employer other than independent contractors. Generally, in workplace injuries or death, the presumption is in favor of employee status, and the burden is on the party seeking to avoid liability to prove independent contractor status. The Legislature has specifically mandated that the statutes be liberally interpreted in favor of coverage for employees injured in the course of employment. If death occurs while the decedent was on the job, the right to sue may change. If an employee elects to take workmen's compensation, he or she does not have a right to sue his employer for injuries in the workplace. The employee is afforded relatively swift and certain payment of benefits to cure or relieve the effects of industrial injury without having to prove fault. In exchange, however, the employee gives up the wider range of damages potentially available in tort.
If a person's death on the job was due to the negligent actions of a third party, however, Pennsylvania's Workers' Compensation statute allows dependents to pursue a wrongful death suit against the third party, regardless of whether the decedent elected for workers' compensation through his or her employer. 77 Pa. Stat § 481(b).