From time to time an injured worker will file a workers’ compensation claim and subsequently die before the resolution of the claim. This is always a sad situation and it can leave the surviving family members and the deceased’s former employer uncertain as to the proper way to handle the pending claim. Initially, one might assume that death cuts off any obligation the employer has to pay an injured worker. After all, the two primary purposes of Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws is to compensate an employee for the time she can not work because of the work-related injuries and to pay for the injured worker’s medical treatment. It may sound callus, but death eliminates an employee’s need to find suitable employment after an injury and obliterates the need for future medical treatment.
Georgia law takes a split view on whether entitlement to compensation transcends an employee’s death. If death was caused by something other then the workers’ compensation injury, the employer’s liability terminates and it may stop paying all of the unpaid workers’ compensation payments. O.C.G.A. 34-9-265(a). If death is caused by the workers’ compensation injury the employer is required to pay for the employee’s burial and to pay the employee’s dependent(s) compensation equal to what the employee was entitled to under the code. If there are no dependents the employer is only responsible for burial costs. O.C.G.A. 3409-265(b)1-2.