Does Workers’ Compensation Pay Death Benefits?
In a previous article, I discussed how the workers’ compensation law in Georgia determines who qualifies as a dependent for purposes of drawing dependency benefits in work-related deaths. This article discusses what dependency benefits are available to those who qualify as dependents.
Who receives dependency benefits
It is important to understand that there is a priority among who will draw dependency benefits if there are multiple dependents. There are two types of dependents or beneficiaries, primary and secondary. Only the spouse and children of the injured worker are primary beneficiaries. Everyone else is a potential secondary beneficiary.
If there are any primary beneficiaries, then the entire dependency benefit will be split between the primary beneficiaries unless the primary beneficiaries waive the right to receive benefits. Secondary beneficiaries are only entitled to dependency benefits in two situations:
- If there are no primary beneficiaries
- If all primary beneficiaries waive their rights to benefits.
How are dependency benefits paid?
Dependency benefits are paid weekly in Georgia just like the temporary total disability benefits that an injured worker receives when he or she is unable to work as a result of a work injury. Also, the amount of the dependency benefits in Georgia is determined the same way as temporary total disability. That means it is based on two-thirds of the deceased worker’s average weekly wage.
Georgia has a cap on the maximum weekly dependency benefit. That cap varies depending on the date of injury.
If there is just one primary beneficiary, then that person will receive the entire dependency benefit. If there is more than one primary beneficiary, then the dependency benefit is split between the primary beneficiaries.
In most cases if there is a surviving spouse and surviving child or children, the entire dependency benefit is paid to the spouse to use for the benefit of the spouse and the children. However, the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation does have the power to determine that the dependency benefit should be paid differently if necessary (such as when the current spouse is not the mother of one or more of the children who are eligible to receive benefits).
How long can a surviving spouse receive dependency benefits?
In general, dependents only receive dependency benefits while they remain dependent on the deceased worker. The Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act, provides some specific limits on the time frame for receiving dependency benefits.
O.C.G.A. 34-9-265 states that the dependency benefits of a spouse will be terminated if the spouse remarries or cohabits with someone of the opposite sex. Apart from those situations, however, the spouse usually will continue receiving dependency benefits until he or she reaches the maximum limit allowed by law.
In the case of a spouse, dependency benefits are limited to a total of $230,000. However, this limit only applies if there were no other dependents at the time of the worker’s death. If there were dependent children or other dependents, the spouse may be able to receive benefits until age 65 or for a period of 400 weeks, even if this amount goes over the $230,000 cap.
How long can a child receive dependency benefits
The other type of primary beneficiaries are children. Children’s dependency benefits are generally limited by age. Most children continue to receive dependency benefits until age 18.
There are a couple of exceptions that allow children to draw benefits past 18 years of age. The first exception allows a child to continue to receive benefits up until age 22 if the child remains enrolled full time in good standing in high school or a postsecondary institution (college or technical schools).
Also, if the dependent child is physically or mentally incapable of earning a living, then there is no age limit. The child can receive benefits as long as the child remains dependent.
Who can qualify as a secondary beneficiary?
Secondary beneficiaries are dependents (people who looked to the deceased worker for financial support) other than the spouse or children of the deceased work. These dependents could include family members (such as a mother, father, grandchild, or grandparent) or friends.
To receive benefits, the dependent’s dependency on the deceased worker must have existed at the time of the deceased worker’s work injury. It also must have existed to some extent at least three months prior to the work-related injury.
When can secondary beneficiaries receive benefits?
The workers’ compensation law in Georgia provides benefits for secondary beneficiary dependents only in instances where there are no primary beneficiary dependents (spouse and/or children) receiving benefits. When there are no primary dependents receiving benefits, those people who qualify as secondary dependents can receive benefits.
Types of secondary beneficiaries
There are two categories of secondary dependents:
- Total secondary dependents
- Partial secondary dependents.
Total secondary dependents are people who were totally dependent on the deceased worker for support at the time of the work accident. Partial secondary dependents are individuals who were only partially dependent on the deceased worker for support at the time of the work accident.
As long as there is a secondary beneficiary who is a total dependent, then no partial secondary dependent can receive benefits. If there are no primary beneficiaries and no totally dependent secondary beneficiaries, then partial secondary dependents can receive benefits.
How long can secondary beneficiaries receive benefits?
There is no specific time frame provided for how long totally dependent secondary beneficiaries can receive benefits. The law only specifies that they can receive benefits “during their dependency”. Potentially, a totally dependent secondary beneficiary could draw workers’ compensation dependency benefits for the rest of his or her life.
For partially dependent secondary beneficiaries, there is a more specific limit. Benefits end at age 65 or after 400 weeks of benefits, whichever provides greater benefits. Of course, benefits would also end sooner if the person stops being dependent.
Questions about dependency benefits
Workers’ compensation deaths are tragic events. After the death, there are so many things on the mind of family and friends that workers’ compensation benefits are probably the last thing they are thinking about. However, it is important to know, that there are time limits known as statutes of limitations requiring that claims for dependency benefits be filed within a certain time of the work related injury or death.
It can be very important to act quickly so that you do not lose your rights. If you have questions about a work-related death or possible dependency benefits, the workers’ compensation attorneys at our firm are happy to provide a free consultation to answer those questions. To find out more about what a free consultation is and what you will learn during it, just take a look at this article that explains it in more detail.
If you would like to set up a free consultation, just call us at (770) 214-8885. We’ll be happy to schedule one for you.
Jason Perkins is an attorney who specializes in representing injured workers. He regularly publishes videos and write blog articles about Georgia’s workers compensation system and issues that are important to injured workers and their families.
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