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Death Benefits Under Tennessee's Workers' Compensation Law

Most Worker’s Compensation claims deal with an ongoing illness or disability. However, at times a family will find themselves dealing with the death of a loved one due to a work-related injury and need to understand Worker’s Comp and Death Benefits. As described below, these cases are complicated and you may need a Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Lawyer to sort the issues out.

According to the Tennessee Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 124 people died due to an occupational injury in 2019.

Fatalities Chart

In most cases, Tennessee law clearly defines “Death Benefits” and how a Workers Compensation Carrier should handle this claim. The Carrier must:

  1. Calculate the Maximum Total Death Benefit
  2. Determine the “dependents” of the deceased worker and the correct rate to pay them
  3. Determine how long payments will be made and what the maximum amount paid will be
What is the Maximum Total Death Benefit?

The “Maximum Total Death Benefit” is a calculation is based on the deceased worker’s average weekly wage. A single dependent would be paid 50% of that wage. If there are multiple dependents, the total amount paid would be 66.67% of the average weekly wage. For instance, if a worker’s average weekly wage was $600, a single dependent would be awarded a payment of $300 per week. If there are multiple dependents, the maximum paid between all dependents would be $400. This weekly benefit is subject to the State’s maximum and minimum weekly benefit rates. In addition, “this compensation shall be paid during dependency not to exceed the maximum total benefit, payments to be paid at the intervals when the wage was payable, as nearly as may be.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-210. This means that the claim is capped at 450 weeks.

Who are Dependents?

Correctly identifying and paying all “dependents” can be the hardest part of Worker’s Comp Death Benefits. Most often, these dependents will be:

  • A Resident spouse
  • A child under 18 (includes biological children, adopted children, and stepchildren dependent on deceased worker)
  • A child between 18 and 22 who is enrolled in a “recognized educational institution.”
  • Parents, siblings, and in-laws who the deceased worker “regularly supported.” (The support is not just money, but can be housing, transportation, food, medical benefits, etc.)
  • Grandchildren in certain circumstances (usually if the deceased worker supported the grandchild as their own child)

If there are no eligible dependents, the Death Benefits will pay $20,000 to the estate of the deceased.

How Long Will Benefits Be Paid?

Once the benefit amount has been calculated and all the dependents have been identified, benefits will continue for up to 450 weeks for any claim after 7/1/14 (Up to the maximum total benefit amount) OR until the dependents are no longer eligible.

A dependent would become ineligible by:

  • A spouse remarrying
  • A child turning 18 and not attending a “recognized educational institution.”
  • A child turning 22 if they attending a “recognized educational institution.”
  • The dependent’s death.

In most instances, benefits would continue for a child who was mentally or physically unable to earn a wage until their death or marriage.

What Other Benefits may Be Paid?

Above, we have discussed the Death Benefits that would be paid under a Worker’s Comp policy. However, in addition to these benefits, the Carrier would still pay any medical bills related to the injury and death of the deceased worker. It is very important that any medical bills received should be sent to the Carrier.

The claim would also pay funeral and burial expenses. For a claim after 7/1/2017, the claim would pay $10,000 for those expenses.

Insurance companies will often attack Death Benefit cases claiming that the death was caused by something other than a work accident. You may need a Tennessee lawyer specializing in Workers’ Compensation to fight this argument.

If you have questions about Death Benefits and your workers' compensation claim, please call the Lawyers of Brown & Roberto and we will be happy to review any questions you may have about Death Benefits or any of your other personal injury questions.

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