A police officer is killed every 53 hours in the United States. In 2019, 7 police officers were killed in the line of duty in Georgia alone.
In September 2020, 2 law enforcement officers with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office were killed when the vehicle they were in was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer. The accident happened on Interstate-20 Eastbound at Exit 190 when the officers were stopped for traffic. The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office reported that the officers were en-route to pick up a prisoner for transport at the time of the crash.
When an officer is killed, they often leave behind a spouse and children. Though no amount of money can make up for the loss of a loved one, surviving family members may be able to recover damages depending on the circumstances surrounding the officer’s death.
Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that provides financial benefits (sometimes called “survivor benefits”) to certain family members when an employee is killed on the job. These benefits are generally equal to 2/3rds of the employee’s average weekly wage prior to their death.
When is an officer considered on the job?
A fatal injury is covered if it arises “out of and in the course of” employment.
In other words, a police officer probably isn’t covered if they were killed while driving home from work after their shift. On the other hand, a police officer is probably covered if they were killed while making an arrest or driving to transport a prisoner as in the tragic Fulton County truck accident.
Who can receive survivor benefits?
An officer’s spouse, provided they were not living separately from the officer for at least 90 days prior to the officer’s death, can receive survivor benefits. Additionally, if the officer has any dependent children, the children can receive survivor benefits.
It’s not always easy to determine whether an officer was killed on duty, who can receive benefits, how to file a claim, and, if necessary, how to appeal a workers’ compensation decision. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help.
Wrongful death lawsuit
Workers’ compensation is considered an exclusive remedy. This means that family members are generally prohibited from suing the officer’s employer or colleague following a fatal injury.
However, family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit if the death was caused by a third-party (someone other than the officer’s employer or colleague). In the case of police officers, third-party wrongful death lawsuits are quite common.
For instance, in the real-life example of the Fulton County crash, because the accident occurred in the course of their employment (while picking up a prisoner), the officers’ dependents can probably receive survivor benefits.
Additionally, the dependants can file a third-party wrongful death lawsuit against the driver of the tractor-trailer to recover additional damages.
Federal and state death benefit programs
There are 2 primary federal and state death benefit programs that may be available to the family members of officers who are killed in the line of duty.
The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Program provides cash benefits to the eligible spouse and children of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers who are killed in the line of duty. The lump-sum PSOB death benefit for 2020 is $365,670.
Additionally, the Public Safety Officers’ Educational Assistance (PSOEA) program provides higher-education assistance to the children and spouses of officers killed in the line of duty.
In general, PSOB death benefits are paid in addition to workers’ compensation benefits and life insurance benefits. However, PSOB death benefits might be offset by certain other benefit programs.
- The Georgia Public Officers Indemnification Program provides a financial benefit to the un-remarried spouse or the dependents of a Georgia officer killed in the line of duty. The 2020 benefit is $150,000 and is paid through the Georgia State Indemnification Fund. All applications for the benefit are processed and investigated by an indemnification specialist.
Other sources of support for the family members of Georgia officers killed in the line of duty
The state of Georgia offers a number of additional programs and scholarships designed to support those left behind when an officer is killed in the line of duty. These include:
- The Kids Chance scholarship program is designed to help children who have had a parent killed in a work-related accident by offering scholarships for children between the ages of 16 and 22.
- The Atlanta State Bar Association’s Police Scholarship Fund provides scholarships to children of Atlanta law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The scholarships are awarded for education beyond the 12th grade and do not exceed $2,000 per year.
- The Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) organization works with law enforcement agencies, police organizations, and mental health professionals, and peer-support groups to provide assistance to surviving families of law enforcement officers killed in the liney of duty.
- The Dignity Memorial Public Servants Program provides dignified and honorable tributes (at no cost) for career and volunteer law enforcement officers who are killed in the line of duty.