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Can the Family of a Construction Worker File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Based on Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates, about 1,000 construction workers lose their lives each year due to a fatal construction accident. To put that number into perspective, almost three construction workers lose their lives each day at jobsites across the country. In fact, construction site fatalities account for about 20% of all worker deaths in the private sector.

After the death of a construction worker, family members are left wondering what they can do to seek justice and compensation if anything at all. Do they have the option to file a wrongful death claim? Or do they have to go through workers’ compensation plans? The answer lies in how the decedent was classified while working.

When to Use Workers’ Compensation Benefits

In this blog, we will focus on how Georgia handles fatal construction accident cases in particular. If a construction site worker was classified as an employee, then they likely have workers’ compensation coverage. Georgia requires any business with at least three part-time or full-time employees to purchase workers’ compensation insurance and provide it to their employees. Even employees on their first day of work should be covered by workers’ compensation benefits.

Georgia also describes workers’ compensation as a benefit to be paid to an employee due to a work-related illness or injury, or to the surviving family of an employee who passed away due to a work-related accident or illness. With this said, the family of a construction worker covered by workers’ compensation can file what is known as a death claim.

When a Wrongful Death Claim is Required

Being considered an employee as a construction worker in Georgia can be somewhat uncommon. On many jobsites, work is completed by independent contractors who are hired through a construction firm and assigned a task. They are only expected to work as long as the jobsite is active and more work needs to be done.

While the flexibility of being an independent contractor can be appreciated, it comes with the downside of not being covered by workers’ compensation provided through an employer. However, not being able to file a death claim through workers’ compensation does not mean that there are no remaining legal options for the decedent’s surviving family members. In lieu of workers’ comp, civil claims can be filed.

In particular, the surviving family members of a deceased construction worker can file a wrongful death claim against the construction company that staffed them. Wrongful death claims, like other injury claims, depend on the presence of negligence carried out by the defendant. That is to say, the claim will state that the construction company did something wrong that caused or contributed to the construction worker’s death.

Examples of construction company negligence include:

  • Failing to provide mandatory safety equipment
  • Failing to hire trained professionals for each project
  • Failing to enforce safety protocols, such as the proper construction of scaffolding

If the construction company’s negligence can be successfully argued, then the plaintiff may be offered a settlement amount to end the claim before it goes to court. If the company does not want to budge and rejects its liability for the fatal construction accident, then the claim can become a lawsuit and go to trial for a jury verdict and/or award. Although the litigation process is more in-depth and can be more stressful than relying on workers’ compensation coverage, the payout is often better for plaintiffs whose cases succeed.

Do you have questions about what you can do after a loved one lost their life on a construction site in Georgia? Call (404) 998-5258 to connect with Pratt Clay, LLC in Atlanta. Our attorneys can help you understand your legal options, and we may even be able to offer our representation if you need to file a claim or lawsuit.