What Do Workplace Manslaughter Charges Mean for VIC Workers?

Workplace Manslaughter Offence in Victoria

Starting in July, employers who fail to maintain safety standards and cause the death of a worker as a result can be charged with and jailed for workplace manslaughter. Under the Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment Act, companies can be fined up to $16.5 million and owners, officers, and other agents responsible for an on-the-job death can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

According to WorkSafe Victoria, last year saw the deaths of 24 workers, as well as more than 27,000 work injury claims. WorkCover entitlements may be available for dependants and other family members in the event of an on-the-job fatality, but the process for filing a claim can be lengthy, involved, and upsetting.

Hiring a lawyer to help navigate the WorkCover claim process is often beneficial in this fraught time for you and your family. Please call Henry Carus + Associates at 03 9001 1318 for a free consultation. Our lawyers serve clients in Melbourne and throughout Victoria.

What Entitlements Are Available in Work-Related Death Claims?

Nobody should have to experience the tragedy of a loved one going to work and then never coming home again. Such a loss takes a devastating toll emotionally, mentally, and financially.

In addition to benefits for employees who suffer injuries on the job, WorkSafe Victoria also administers compensation to family members after a work-related death. WorkCover death benefits are known as entitlements. Entitlements include lump sum payments for dependent partners and children, as well as weekly pension payments for dependants. (Weekly pensions are limited to 3 years for dependent spouses, while payments for child dependants are subject to age restrictions.)

Entitlements also cover expenses related to:

  • The cost of burial or cremation
  • Family counselling services
  • Medical care provided to the worker prior to death
  • Travel for a funeral service held more than 100 km from a family member’s residence
  • Reasonable expenses incurred by non-dependent family members

These entitlements are no substitute for having your loved one alive and well. However, they can offset the costs your family may face immediately after the death of a loved one, as well as provide compensation and assistance that can help you move forward from the tragic event.

Common Law Claims for Work-Related Deaths

The workers’ compensation scheme in Victoria is a no-fault system. You are not required to prove that the employer was negligent in order to receive entitlement benefits.

However, depending on the circumstances in the work-related accident, you may be able to pursue a common law claim against your loved one’s employer and/or another party.

As in common law personal injury claims, your ability to recover damages in these cases requires proof that one or more parties’ negligence resulted in your loved one’s death. These parties may include:

  • The employer, for failing to maintain safe working conditions
  • An employee who has made a tragic mistake
  • A contractor, subcontractor, or vendor
  • The owner of the property where your loved one was working

Like the entitlements above, WorkSafe administers damages in the event that the family of a worker killed in an on-the-job accident pursues a common law claim. Dependants are eligible for compensation of damages under Victoria’s Wrongs Act 1958.

The difference between a WorkCover claim and common law claim can be confusing. During your free consultation, our experienced work injury lawyers will evaluate your case and discuss your options for filing a claim.

Workplace Manslaughter

Starting on 1 July 2020, employers may face criminal prosecution if a worker dies on the job. In workplace manslaughter cases, the criminal courts in Victoria will determine if the employer’s misconduct or failure to act constitutes negligence.

Under Victoria law, negligence is “a great falling short of the standard of care that a reasonable person would have exercised in the circumstances and involves a high risk of death, serious injury or serious illness.” Causation must also be established; that is, did the employer’s negligence cause the worker’s death?

Negligence may include:

  • Failure to fix a dangerous condition that presents a high risk of injury, illness, or death
  • Inadequate supervision of workers
  • Failure to provide proper equipment for workers performing dangerous job duties

The purpose of the new offence of workplace manslaughter is to hold accountable employers who seriously breach the duty they owe to their employees and cause death as a result. Families may also take solace in seeing justice done for a loved one who is killed on the job.

Contact Our WorkCover Claim Lawyers Today

No employees should have to fear for their lives when they report to work. We hope that business owners and their agents take the new law seriously and adopt precautions to prevent worker fatalities ahead of the effective date.

If you were injured on the job or a family member tragically died in a workplace accident, please contact Henry Carus + Associates online or call 03 9001 1318 today for a free case review. Our lawyers and staff provide experienced legal help and compassionate service for clients in and around Melbourne and other areas of VIC.

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