Barzey v. City of Cuthbert: On Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits and Other Heirs

In workers’ compensation claims that involve an employee who died as a result of a workplace accident, benefits can be paid as either a lump sum death benefit or in monthly installments for a certain period of time. One question that may arise is who is considered a beneficiary of a deceased employee for the purposes of a workers’ compensation death benefit award.

tyne-cot-cemetery-892543-m.jpgBarzey v. City of Cuthbert, a case from the Supreme Court of Georgia, dealt with this issue. In Brazey, the mother of a deceased worker challenged the constitutionality of barring her from collecting the workers’ compensation death benefits award for her son.

Employee was killed at 37 years of age during a workplace accident in 2010. He was not married and had no children. His only heir at law was his mother, who was the petitioner in this action. Following his death, petitioner filed lawsuit against the city seeking a declaratory judgment that she was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in connection with her son’s death. As our workers compensation attorneys in Spartanburg, South Carolina can explain, a declaratory judgment is a decision from a court that will apply to a future legal action.

In other words, rather than filing a workers’ compensation claim, and having that claim be dismissed, then appealing the dismissal to a higher court, you go directly to the higher court and ask them for an opinion on what you are about to do. While the United States Supreme Court will not issue declaratory judgments or advisory opinions, state supreme courts are allowed to do this.

Petitioner admitted that, under that state statute, workers’ compensation death benefits are issued only to dependents and, only then, during a time of dependency. When an employee leaves no dependents, only burial expenses are payable under the workers’ compensation act.

Petitioner argued that, when applied to her situation, this law violated her constitutional due process and equal protection rights. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. Petitioner was asking that the court enter a verdict in her favor and employer was asking the court to dismiss the case. No oral argument was heard, and the court dismissed the case. Petitioner then filed a direct appeal to the state supreme court, asserting the court’s original jurisdiction to decide on constitutional issues.

While the appeal contained some challenges to the procedure followed by the trial court, the primary issues on appeal involved the constitutionality of the statute that prohibited a parent from being the recipient of a workers’ compensation award for an employee who died without any dependents.

The court of appeals stated that it had not considered this issue before but looked to other states that have repeatedly held this statute was constitutional, because it was not irrational. The court also said that, because employee died from a workplace injury, and normally an employee injured on the job is prevented from also filing a separate civil suit, that prohibition could be constitutionally applied to the mother, thus preventing her from filing a lawsuit against the city.

If you have suffered a work injury in Spartanburg, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Barzey v. City of Cuthbert, Sept. 22, 2014, Georgia Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Adamson v. Municipality of Anchorage and Novapro Risk Solutions: Work-Related Cancer and Firefighters
, Sept. 17, 2014, Spartanburg Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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