On December 1, 2015, the driver of a dump truck was killed in a collision with a freight train in Dekalb County, Georgia. The truck was dragged approximately a half mile and the driver was ejected from the vehicle. The crash occurred at the end of a dead end street leading to a dump. Reports indicate that there was a stop sign at the crossing, but no lights or crossing arms.
Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits
Dependents of workers killed in occupational accidents are eligible for workers’ compensation death benefits. Like ordinary workers’ compensation payments, these benefits are capped. As of 2015, death benefits paid a maximum of $7,500 for burial expenses, and $550 per week up to a total of $220,000. Not every case will be worth this much, as it partially depends on how many eligible beneficiaries there are within what class. Also, the $550 per week is a maximum payment, reducible as a percentage of the employee’s average weekly wages.
Tort Liability and Issues of Fault
In addition to workers’ compensation death benefits, a case such as this could potentially give rise to a wrongful death lawsuit. In a typical case, workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy. This means that in light of the compromise that created the workers’ compensation system, workers forego any personal injury claims against their employer in exchange for receiving the guaranteed (but limited) recovery provided by workers’ compensation.
However, in some cases, workers or their heirs may be entitled to file tort claims. In these cases, the plaintiff must prove that a third party (rather than their employer) was liable for the injury. When workers’ compensation payments are issued in such cases, the employer and their insurer have a right to intervene in the lawsuit to recover their payments subject to the victim being made whole. This is called subrogation.
According to the earliest reports, there are some indications that either the railroad or the responsible municipality could be found liable for failure to provide crossing arms at the crossing. However, a favorable outcome in a tort claim in this case is no slam dunk. The presence of a stop sign, though not the best safeguard against such accidents, would likely be introduced as evidence that the driver was on notice of the risk, and was therefore at least partially at fault.
Although partial fault does not prohibit some level of recovery, any tort damages to which the driver’s estate or heirs would be entitled would be reduced in proportion to the drivers’ share in the fault under a legal doctrine known as comparative fault.
Furthermore, the possibility for a long and ugly dispute over who is to blame in this case is one of the reasons why workers’ compensation exists to begin with. The legislature recognizes that injured workers or the families of killed workers should be compensated, and that the tort system can be both unpredictable and inefficient in providing this compensation. So the expedited system of workers’ compensation was formed to strike a compromise. Workers do not have to prove anyone else was at fault for their claim, but they accept a limited amount of compensation. This may be exactly the sort of case that validates the wisdom of this approach.
Contact an Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Attorney Today
If you have been injured in a workplace accident, or if a loved one has been killed, you are likely entitled to recover workers’ compensation benefits. Contact the attorneys at the Bader Law Firm, LLC today for a free consultation. We are dedicated to ensuring a fair and efficient resolution of your claim. Do not delay. The time to file your claim is limited.