Was your loved one killed in a fatal work accident?
Workers’ compensation is about more than just money; it’s about justice and financial security for your family. Let our Macon attorneys examine your claim and fight for your rights.
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Macon, GA 31201-8242
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In 2018, it was reported that 5,250 people lost their lives due to fatal work injuries in the U.S.—that’s over 14 workers killed every day and over 100 deaths per week. On average, more than 180 workers lose their lives in Georgia each year. But these workers aren’t just a number; many have spouses and children who love them and count on them to provide for the family. Tragically, their lives were cut short and the future (and financial security) of their surviving loved ones was thrown into question.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that while Georgia workers’ compensation laws provide workers who are injured on the job or suffer a work-related illness with much-needed benefits, they also allow for families to secure financial relief after the work-related death of a loved one and primary wage earner.
At the injury law firm of Westmoreland, Patterson, Moseley & Hinson, our Macon workers’ compensation lawyers have over 200 years of combined experience representing family members throughout the state of Georgia who are still mourning a loss of their loved one. Just because you deserve compensation doesn’t mean that the insurance company or employer will play by the rules. Sometimes, you have to fight for the financial lifeline that will keep you and your family afloat. Let us fight on your behalf.
Common causes of work-related fatalities
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, transportation incidents (such as car and truck accidents) are by far the most frequent type of fatal work-related event, accounting for roughly 40 percent of all workplace fatalities. Other causes of job-related deaths include:
- Fatal falls, slips and trips
- Incidents involving contact with objects and equipment (workers caught in running equipment or machinery, workers struck by falling objects or equipment, etc.)
- Unintentional overdoses due to nonmedical use of drugs or alcohol while at work
- Violence and other injuries by persons or animals
In 2018, occupations with the highest fatalities rates (more than 10 times the average worker fatality rate) included logging workers, fishers, pilots and flight engineers and roofers. Police, sheriff’s officers and other law enforcement personnel also had higher than average fatality rates. Fatal work injuries to independent workers were most commonly reported in occupations such as truck drivers and construction workers.
Georgia’s workers’ compensation law regarding death benefits
The statute laying out Georgia’s stance on compensation for workplace fatalities is covered in O.C.G.A. 34-9-265 (Compensation for death resulting from injury and other causes; penalty for death from injury proximately caused by intentional act of employer; payment of death benefits where no dependents found), which says:
(b) If death results instantly from an accident arising out of and in the course of employment or if during the period of disability caused by an accident death results proximately therefrom, the compensation under this chapter shall be as follows:
(1) The employer shall, in addition to any other compensation, pay the reasonable expenses of the employee’s burial not to exceed $7,500.00. If the employee leaves no dependents, this shall be the only compensation;
(2) The employer shall pay the dependents of the deceased employee, which dependents are wholly dependent on his or her earnings for support at the time of the injury, a weekly compensation equal to the compensation which is provided for in Code Section 34-9-261 for total incapacity;
(3) If the employee leaves dependents only partially dependent on his or her earnings for their support at the time of the injury, the weekly compensation for these dependents shall be in the same proportion to the compensation for persons wholly dependent as the average amount contributed weekly by the deceased to the partial dependents bears to the deceased employee’s average weekly wages at the time of the injury; and
(4) When weekly payments have been made to an injured employee before his or her death, compensation to dependents shall begin on the date of the last of such payments; but the number of weekly payments made to the injured employee under Code Section 34-9-261, 34-9-262, or 34-9-263 shall be subtracted from the maximum 400 week period of dependency of a spouse provided by Code Section 34-9-13; and in no case shall payments be made to dependents except during dependency.
(c) The compensation provided for in this Code section shall be payable only to dependents and only during dependency.
(d) The total compensation payable under this Code section to a surviving spouse as a sole dependent at the time of death and where there is no other dependent for one year or less after the death of the employee shall in no case exceed $270,000.00.
(e) If it shall be determined that the death of an employee was the direct result of an injury proximately caused by the intentional act of the employer with specific intent to cause such injury, then there shall be added to the weekly income benefits paid to the dependents, if any, of the deceased employee a penalty of 20 percent; provided, however, such penalty in no case shall exceed $20,000.00. For the purpose of this subsection, an employer shall be deemed to have intended an injury only if the employer had actual knowledge that the intended act was certain to cause such injury and knowingly disregarded this certainty of injury. Nothing in this subsection shall limit the effect of Code Section 34-9-11.
(f) Each insurer or self-insurer which, in a compensable death case, finds no dependent or dependents qualifying to receive dependency benefits shall pay to the State Board of Workers’ Compensation one-half of the benefits which would have been payable to such dependent or dependents or the sum of $10,000.00, whichever is less. All such funds paid to the board shall be deposited in the general fund of the state treasury. If, after such payment has been made, it is determined that a dependent or dependents qualified to receive benefits exist, then the insurer or self-insurer shall be entitled to reimbursement by refund for moneys collected in error.
Who’s entitled to survivor benefits after a fatal workplace accident?
Surviving spouses, dependent children/stepchildren and, in some cases, other family members who were dependent on the deceased worker can receive death benefits under Georgia’s workers’ compensation act. If the deceased worker had no spouse or children, then other individuals (for example, a disabled parent or sibling) may be eligible for death benefits so long as they can prove that they were financially dependent on the deceased worker for at least 3 months prior to the deadly accident.
If there is more than 1 beneficiary, the death benefit payments are split between all eligible individuals. Surviving spouses typically are paid death benefits for both themselves and their children. If the deceased worker had no spouse but more than 1 child, then the benefits are distributed equally among the children.
While you may be consumed by your personal loss and grief during this difficult time, it’s important to start considering the details of filing a workers’ compensation death benefits claim before it’s too late. You may have such a claim if a spouse or family member was killed in a work-related accident or died as a result of a job-related disease.
Workers’ compensation death benefits in Georgia
When a worker is killed while on the job in Georgia, their surviving dependents may be eligible for workers’ compensation death benefits including:
- Funeral and burial costs. Reasonable compensation for burial and funeral expenses should be provided to the surviving spouse or family, up to $7,500.
- Lost future income. Certain surviving dependents may be able to receive income replacement payments equal to two-thirds of their deceased loved one’s average weekly wage, up to a state maximum. (For fatal work accidents that occurred on or after July 1, 2019, the maximum rate for lost income benefits is $675 per week.)
- Medical expenses. It’s usually the responsibility of the employer to pay for any medical expenses incurred by the deceased worker before their death as a result of the fatal work-related injury. For example, if a worker fell and hit their head, causing them to go into a coma and eventually pass away, the employer would be on the hook for covering the medical bills that arose while the worker was hospitalized in a coma.
It’s worth noting that compensation for non-tangible (non-economic) damages such as pain and suffering or loss of consortium is not generally covered by workers’ compensation.
How long do benefits last?
How long death benefits last depends on the type of dependent seeking compensation and individual life circumstances. For instance, a spouse with no children is eligible for up to 400 weeks (over 7.5 years) of death benefit payments, up to a certain maximum amount. If the widowed spouse remarries or cohabitates in a meretricious relationship with a person of the opposite sex during that period, however, the benefits will be cut off. This 400-week maximum also applies to other financially dependent individuals, and their benefits may be reduced according to the level of dependency on the deceased worker.
For children of the deceased worker, they should receive benefits until they turn 18 if they’re not enrolled in school. If they can prove they are a full-time student, however, benefits may continue until age 22. Surviving children with disabilities may be paid compensation for as long as they remain unable to be self-supporting, even if that’s for the rest of their lives.
What if there are no dependents?
Under Georgia law, if a deceased worker had no spouse, children or any other dependents at the time of their work-related death, then their employer must pay half the amount they would have owed to dependents (had the deceased worker had any) or $10,000 to the State Board of Workers’ Compensation, whichever amount is less.
Was your workers’ compensation death claim denied or contested?
Under Georgia’s workers’ compensation system, an injured worker or their surviving dependents don’t have to worry about proving fault. This is because workers’ comp is a no-fault system, meaning compensation is owed regardless of who is liable for the conditions leading to the fatal injury. So even if the worker made a critical mistake that led to their death, their surviving spouse or children are still owed workers’ compensation benefits.
However, the key phrase cited in the Act regarding workers’ compensation in Georgia is that coverage only extends to an accident arising out of and in the course of employment. Sometimes, a company or their insurance provider will dispute or deny a workers’ compensation death claim under the premise that the deceased worker wasn’t engaging in work-related activities at the time of their fatal injury.
“Great staff. Very professional and knowledgeable. Staff went out of their way to accommodate us in every way possible. Made the whole process less painful. They made sure we understood everything that was going on and would answer any questions a hundred times over if needed.”
The resources needed to win
Unlike some work injury attorneys who settle all of their cases, we are not afraid to appeal a denied claim if needed. Our firm has the resources needed to thoroughly prepare, try and win complicated cases.
We are dedicated to doing everything legally and ethically possible to obtain the best results for our injured clients. Hard work and dedication have allowed us to recover millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for our clients in workers’ compensation and personal injury claims.
How our law firm can help you secure death benefits
We recognize that no amount of money will make up for the tragic death of your loved one. However, for many families and widows, the loss of a primary wage earner adds financial uncertainty and insecurity to an already emotionally difficult situation. The compensation you receive from death benefits can allow you to focus more on your personal loss and less on the details of how you’re going to pay the bills. Let our attorneys take care of these difficult details for you.
Our experienced and knowledgeable attorneys can help educate you on the process and manage state-mandated deadlines to ensure adherence. If you have questions, give us a call or contact us online for your free consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer. From offices in Macon, Albany and Warner Robins, we help injured workers throughout Georgia. Don’t settle for less, get more.