When an employee in Georgia dies from a work-related illness or injury, the employee’s spouse, children, and other dependents are typically eligible for death benefits through workers’ compensation. These weekly benefits are paid to surviving family members who depended on the worker for financial support. Workers’ comp also pays for burial expenses. (To learn more about benefits available to injured workers, see our article on collecting workers’ comp in Georgia.)
Under Georgia’s workers’ compensation law, death benefits are available to next of kin who were dependent on the deceased worker’s earnings. The following family members—called primary beneficiaries—are presumed to be wholly dependent on the worker and first in line for benefits:
Other dependents, called secondary beneficiaries, are eligible if there are no primary beneficiaries. However, they must prove that they were wholly or partially dependent on the deceased worker’s earnings.
The basic death benefit available to all wholly dependent beneficiaries combined is two-thirds of the deceased worker’s average weekly wages. The maximum weekly benefit available to all dependents is $575. However, if the worker’s average weekly wage was less than $50, death benefits are equal to the employee’s average weekly wage.
If there are any primary beneficiaries, they will receive the entire benefit. If the deceased worker had no children, the surviving spouse receives the whole amount. If the deceased worker leaves both spouse and children, the spouse receives the amount for the benefit of all.
If there no primary beneficiaries, or the primary beneficiaries have given up their right to collect, secondary beneficiaries will receive benefits. Benefits first go to whole secondary beneficiaries. If there are none, partial secondary beneficiaries receive benefits. Partial beneficiaries are entitled to a share of the total benefit in proportion to how much the worker contributed to their support.
Benefits to a surviving spouse end upon remarriage or cohabitation in a marriage-like relationship. Otherwise, a surviving spouse’s benefits end at the age of 65 or when the spouse has received 400 weeks of benefits, whichever results in more benefits. These same cutoffs apply to partial dependents. Benefits paid to a child terminate when the child reaches the age of 18 (or 22, if enrolled in college), unless the child is physically or mentally incapacitated from earning.
A surviving spouse who is the sole beneficiary of the deceased worker may not receive more than $230,000 in total benefits.
If the employee’s death was the direct result of an injury caused by an intentional act of the employer, and the employer had the specific intent to cause that injury, the employer must pay a penalty to the beneficiaries. The penalty is equal to 20% of the weekly benefit, up to a total penalty of $20,000.
Under Georgia law, workers’ comp must pay the reasonable expenses of burial for the deceased employee, up to $7,500. These costs must be paid even if the employee has no dependents.
Dependents seeking death benefits must first notify the employer of the employee’s death. The employer is required to notify the insurance carrier, which will start the benefits process. You must file any claim for death benefits within one year of the employee’s death. If you need help, you should consider talking to a workers’ comp attorney. Learn more about how workers’ comp attorneys charge in Georgia.