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If a worker dies on the job, many states limit surviving spouse workers’ compensation

Blaise Gainey Jul 20, 2023
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In Tennessee, lawmakers recently passed legislation to amend workers' compensation laws, making the state more favorable for surviving spouses. AndreyPopov/Getty Images

If a worker dies on the job, many states limit surviving spouse workers’ compensation

Blaise Gainey Jul 20, 2023
Heard on:
In Tennessee, lawmakers recently passed legislation to amend workers' compensation laws, making the state more favorable for surviving spouses. AndreyPopov/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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In 2014, 57-year-old Candy Garrison was at home in McNairy County, Tennessee, when she got a devastating call.

“I was in the kitchen canning and had got a phone call that something had happened to Charlie,” said Garrison. She rushed to the hospital where her husband of 31 years was taken. There, she found out what happened.

“The safety manager was there and at that point in time they thought that Charlie might have had a heart attack, but he didn’t, he was just hit by a forklift,” said Garrison.

Charlie Garrison, husband and father of two, died from the injuries. He was working in the shipping department at Packaging Corporation of America.

In many states, if a worker dies on the job there are limits to the workers’ compensation their spouse can receive. In Tennessee, lawmakers recently passed legislation to amend workers’ compensation laws. The change adds Tennessee to the list of states that are more favorable to surviving spouses. 

Since her husband died on the job, Candy Garrison was eligible to receive workers’ compensation death benefits.

Typically a widow or widower gets a portion of their late spouse’s wage, said Tennessee Attorney Fred Baker, who specializes in workers’ compensation claims.

“If the injured worker left a spouse and a child, then they would draw workers’ compensation benefits at the rate of 66 and two-thirds of the injured workers average weekly wage,” said Baker.

But in order for Candy Garrison to continue getting those checks, there was a catch: she couldn’t remarry. And even though Garrison isn’t looking for a new spouse, she didn’t think that was right.

So Garrison worked with Tennessee lawmakers to get the law changed. Her attorney DJ Norton said the surviving spouse can now get a one-time lump payment if they choose to marry again.

“The requirement that benefits terminate upon remarriage of the surviving spouse is taken out,” said Norton.

Tennessee’s workers’ compensation laws are now similar to a number of other states, said Karen Rothkin with the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

“23 states plus D.C. and the two federal programs already give remarried spouses about two years of further benefits,” said Rothkin. “Most of them in a lump sum.”

But Rothkin points out there are still more than 20 states that leave surviving spouses hanging if they marry again.

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