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Court Allows Wife to Reopen Workers’ Compensation Claim That Had Been Previously Settled by Husband

On Behalf of | Sep 12, 2017 | Workers' Compensation Case Law |

Many Georgia workers’ compensation cases involve only minor or temporary injuries. However, some tragic cases result in an employee’s death. In these cases, the worker’s dependents may be entitled to benefits.

In a recent case, an employee filed a workers’ compensation claim against his employer for a torn thoracic aorta, which was later settled for a lump sum. As part of the settlement agreement, the employee agreed to waive all future claims, including waiving his right to reopen his claim. A year later, the employee died from his work-related injury. Two years after the employee’s death, his wife filed a motion to reopen her husband’s injury claim to assert her own claim for a workers’ compensation death benefit. The wife was not a party to her husband’s settlement. The Administrative Law Judge allowed the wife to reopen the claim and awarded her death benefits. The employer appealed, and the case eventually made its way to that state’s supreme court.

The court considered whether the wife had a separate and viable claim for death benefits, and whether she could assert her claim by reopening her husband’s settled claim. The court determined that the husband’s settlement did not prevent the wife from seeking death benefits. It explained that a state statute provided a surviving spouse with benefits if an employee died from a work-related injury. Those benefits were separate from the benefits awarded to the worker and gave the spouse the right to a separate claim.


The court also considered whether the wife appropriately reopened her husband’s claim. The court explained that the wife was not a party to her husband’s claim, and her husband’s settlement waived any claim to reopen it. Thus, the wife should not have reopened her husband’s claim to pursue death benefits—instead, she should have filed a new claim for those benefits. Despite this, the court allowed the decision to stand and affirmed the administrative law judge’s decision awarding her benefits.

Death Benefits under Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act

Under O.C.G.A. 34-9-265, if a worker’s “death results instantly from an accident arising out of an in the course of employment or if during the period of disability caused by an accident death results proximately therefrom,” the worker’s dependents are entitled to compensation. The employer must pay the reasonable expenses of the employee’s burial, up to $7,500, and weekly compensation to the worker’s dependents. A death is generally compensable if the injury triggered, activated, or aggravated a disease or dormant condition that contributed to the employee’s death. The employee (or the employee’s dependents) has the burden of proving that the death resulted from an accident arising out of and in the course of employment.

Contact a Workers’ Compensation Attorney

If your loved one has passed away after a work injury, you may be entitled to benefits through Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act. This may be true even if the worker was already awarded benefits. At the Georgia law office of J. Franklin Burns, P.C., we have decades of experience handling Georgia workers’ compensation claims. As former insurance defense attorneys, we are able to advance our clients’ cases to trial or through settlement negotiations. Our office has a track record of positive case outcomes resulting in millions of dollars in compensation for our clients. To obtain a free initial consultation, call us at 404-920-4708 or contact us through our online form.