Wrongful Death on the Job: Is it Workers’ Comp or a Lawsuit?

person grieving at gravesiteWhen families suffer the loss of a loved one due to a work injury or contagious disease, it can be overwhelming to even consider legal options. However, the final expenses of a loved one often creates a stressful burden, and while compensation cannot change what has happened, it can help provide financial relief for your family at a difficult time.

Greg Coleman Law discuss what options family members have under Tennessee state law to pursue compensation after the workplace death of a loved one.

If your loved one suffered a fatal injury on the job, our firm has a team of legal representatives who are prepared to help. Call us anytime, day or night, to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation. We welcome the opportunity to discuss your legal needs and answer questions related to recovering damages for a work fatality. We charge nothing unless we first achieve a recovery of benefits or compensation on your behalf.

Pursuing Compensation After a Fatal Tennessee Workplace Accident

After losing a loved one to a fatal work injury, there are two avenues for pursuing compensation and recovering damages, however, it is not as simple as choosing one option over the other. After a Tennessee workplace accident, you can recover compensation for your loved one’s death through:

Workers’ Compensation

Tennessee’s Workers’ Compensation Act has a no-fault system for employees who suffer a work injury to obtain compensation. When a worker suffers a fatal injury, the state extends the deceased worker’s benefits to his or her survivors as defined by the state. If the deceased has no dependents, then $20,000 is paid to the decedent’s estate.

Families who file a workers’ comp claim on behalf of the deceased do not have to prove that their loved one’s employer was negligent to receive these benefits. Unlike a wrongful death lawsuit, workers’ comp death benefits are more limited but may include:

  • 50 percent of the decedent’s average weekly earnings, paid to the surviving spouse
  • If there are one or more dependent children in addition to the surviving spouse, the amount paid will increase to 66 2/3 percent of the decedent’s average weekly wages
  • Medical expenses related to the work injury
  • A maximum of $10,000 for the decedent’s burial costs

Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Wrongful death lawsuits enable a deceased worker’s family members to obtain not only economic damages, including your loved one’s wages and medical bills, but also certain non-economic damages, such as:

  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of enjoyment

However, there is a caveat. Unlike a workers’ comp claim, the family members pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit in this scenario must be able to establish the negligence of the at-fault party.

Unfortunately, because of Tennessee’s exclusive remedy rule, there are only a few exceptions that may allow a decedent’s survivors to pursue this avenue.

What is Tennessee’s “Exclusive Remedy” Rule and How Does it Apply?

Many surviving family members of essential workers who passed away due to COVID-19 are wondering whether they may be eligible to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of a loved one.

The exclusive remedy law exists in many states, including Tennessee. Under this law, those who are injured on the job may not sue either their employer or co-worker. Similarly, families of a deceased worker may also not pursue a lawsuit against their loved one’s employer.

Rarely, there may be grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit under certain circumstances, such as:

  • Third party negligence – When a third party is responsible for a worker's injuries, such as if your loved one was driving his or her car to run a work errand and was killed in an accident caused by a negligent driver, you may have a case.
  • Intentional acts of malice or injury by an employer – Your loved one's employer intentionally caused injury or death. This would not include common acts of negligence, such as failing to maintain equipment.
  • Defective products – May apply if the defective product contributed to the worker’s fatal injury.
  • Your loved one’s employer had no workers’ comp insurance – Although required under Tennessee state law, if your loved one's employer did not purchase workers’ comp insurance, you may have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit to recover compensation for his or her injuries and other damages.

Can I Sue for a Wrongful Death Caused by COVID-19?

The answer to this question is maybe. If you believe your loved one was exposed to the coronavirus due to the gross negligence of his or her employer, or other third party, you may have grounds for a case. However, these lawsuits will be complicated and difficult to prove.

To determine whether you may be eligible to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of your loved one, we recommend that you consult with one of our experienced Knoxville workers’ compensation attorneys as soon as possible.

An Experienced Attorney Can Provide the Legal Help You Need

We have a compassionate and dedicated team of legal professionals at Greg Coleman Law, and we welcome the opportunity to answer your questions and provide the legal help that you need in this difficult time.

Contact our firm 24/7 to speak with a representative and arrange for your free consultation. There is no obligation to hire our services after this meeting. If we represent you, we do not get paid until you do.

Legal help for your workplace injury: (865) 247-0080