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Over the past few years, the discussion over chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has reached a boiling point in the NFL. The seriousness of CTE cannot be overestimated, with symptoms that include depression, memory loss, anxiety, and progressive dementia, among others. Indeed, many players afflicted with CTE have committed suicide as a result of the mental health issues they face. Making matters more difficult, CTE cannot readily be diagnosed while a player is alive; however, doctors can somewhat confidently diagnose CTE in some cases, based on observed symptoms.

Football GameLast year, an agreement was reached between the NFL and several thousand players, whereby the NFL would pay out up to $1 billion in claims to former players as well as the families of players posthumously diagnosed with CTE. However, the NFL players’ Collective Bargaining Agreement does not list CTE as a work-related disease, and it provides no coverage for the disease. This means that, up to this point, compensation is only available through personal injury lawsuits, such as the one discussed above.

According to an industry news source, however, a group of NFL players has asked a court to read a term into their Collective Bargaining Agreement to cover CTE as a work-related disease. If the players are able to get their agreement with the NFL to cover CTE, players suffering from the symptoms of CTE and the families of players who have been posthumously diagnosed with CTE will be able to obtain benefits without needing to establish that the NFL was negligent or at fault in any way. This would create an easier means of recovery for many players and their families.

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Earlier this month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a workers’ compensation case that required the court to interpret the sole-remedy provision contained in the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act. In the case, Saxon v. Starr Indemnity and Liability Company, the court held that although the plaintiff’s employer was required to carry workers’ compensation insurance but failed to do so, a workers’ compensation claim was still the plaintiff’s sole remedy. Thus, the court dismissed his personal injury claim against the employer.

Ice Cream TruckThe Facts of the Case

Saxon’s employer was in the ice cream and freezer business. On the day in question, Saxon was riding as a passenger in a delivery truck when the driver, a co-worker, rear-ended another vehicle. Saxon’s co-worker was cited for following too closely.

Saxon’s employer was required under Georgia law to obtain workers’ compensation insurance. However, for whatever reason, his employer had failed to obtain this coverage. Perhaps thinking a workers’ compensation claim would be fruitless because his employer lacked coverage, Saxon did not file a workers’ compensation claim but instead filed a personal injury claim against his employer, seeking compensation for his injuries.

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Owners of large farms often rely on the contracted labor of migrant workers to help them fulfill their staffing needs around the busy harvest time. However, since these farms so rarely need this volume of labor, farm owners usually lack the infrastructure necessary to provide transportation for these workers. As a result, farm owners will often contract under-the-table transportation companies to get workers from their homes to the farm.

Tossing Hay BalesAccording to a recent Georgia news source, the system that many farm owners use to get temporary workers to their farms is dangerous and too often underinsured. The article discusses a November 2015 accident in which six farm workers were killed and another seven injured when the bus they were riding in struck a concrete bridge support, ripping the roof off the bus. The company that operated the bus had not registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, meaning that it was not legally permitted to transport workers. Furthermore, the driver of the bus did not even have a commercial driver’s license.

To make matters worse, the company’s workers’ compensation policy did not cover the bus ride. As a result, since the transportation company carried just one-fifth of the required insurance on the bus, the families of the deceased were left with a much smaller total sum of money than necessary to cover their expenses and losses.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Arkansas issued a written opinion highlighting the importance of ensuring that workers’ compensation claims are timely filed. In the case, Hendrix v. Alcoa, the court dismissed a widow’s wrongful death claim against her deceased husband’s former employer, based on the fact that a workers’ compensation claim was the sole remedy for her loss. However, since her husband had failed to filed his workers’ compensation claim in a timely manner, the widow will not receive any compensation for the loss of her husband.

FactoryThe Facts of the Case

Mr. Hendrix worked for Alcoa for nearly 30 years, retiring in 1995. During his employment, Hendrix was exposed to asbestos. Seventeen years after his retirement, in 2012, he was diagnosed with an asbestos-related cancer. Later that year, he filed a workers’ compensation claim, seeking benefits for what he claimed to be a work-related diagnosis. However, a judge dismissed Hendrix’s claim because it was filed after the statute outlining the amount of time a worker had to file a case had expired. Specifically, in Arkansas, an injured worker has two years to file a claim from the date of last exposure. Hendrix did not appeal the decision.

In the following year, Hendrix died. His wife filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Alcoa, claiming that the company was responsible for her husband’s diagnosis and subsequent death.

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Earlier this year in October, a pipeline explosion in Shelby County, Alabama claimed one man’s life and injured several others. In a recent news update, one of the men injured in the explosion has died from his injuries, increasing the death toll to two.

PipelineEvidently, the explosion occurred when an excavator for a Georgia-based construction company struck an underground transmission pipeline when using a backhoe. The pipeline, which was carrying gasoline, burst and began to leak. The gas ignited, causing a small fire. At the time, one man was pronounced dead and five others taken to area hospitals. One of the five injured men was hospitalized until recently, when he passed away from the injuries he sustained in the explosion.

A local ABC affiliate reported that the construction company has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) eight times between the years of 2009 and 2013. These violations all occurred on job sites in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. In fact, five of those violations were considered “serious” by OSHA, and three directly involved the company’s excavation work.

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Earlier this year, Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a bill that would have helped Georgia firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer obtain much-needed workers’ compensation benefits. House Bill 216 passed both Georgia houses of congress, only to be vetoed by the Governor before the bill could become law.

FirefighterThe bill would have established a rebuttable presumption that certain types of cancer found in firefighters were “occupational diseases” under the state’s workers’ compensation statute. The presumption would only arise if the firefighter were able to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that their work caused the cancer. If the firefighter was able to meet that initial threshold, the burden would shift to the insurer to prove that the cancer was not work-related. As the law stands now, cancer is categorized as an “ordinary disease of life,” and those unfortunate enough to encounter a cancer diagnosis are unlikely to receive benefits.

Governor Deal’s rationale for vetoing the bill was that it was too broad because it failed to establish a timeline or to limit the types of cancer covered. He also stated that the rate of cancer among Georgia firefighters was not “abundantly demonstrated.”

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Workplace injuries are a common occurrence across Georgia. In fact, with a total of over 103,000 workplace injuries last year alone, Georgia ranks higher than average in workplace accidents across the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These injuries occur across a broad range of jobs.

Bridge Under ConstructionWhile some jobs are commonly known to be dangerous, such as construction and factory work, others come as a bit of a surprise. A recent article in the Atlanta Patch outlines a newly released report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, discussing the most dangerous jobs in Georgia.

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Workplace accidents are not limited to just a few industries. While most people think of workplace accidents occurring on construction sites and in other inherently dangerous occupations, the reality is that workplace accidents happen across the board. In fact, according to a recent article by the Associated Press, workplace accidents occurring on TV and movie sets are fairly common and grossly unreported.

Video CameraThe article discusses several accidents that occurred on TV and movie sets across the country in recent years, including a 2014 accident that claimed the life of a young woman working as a camera assistant here in Georgia. Evidently, the woman was working on the set of “Midnight Rider,” a bio-pic about the rock-n-roll legend Gregg Allman, when the set supervisor failed to obtain the necessary permits to film on active train tracks. As a result, the county did not let the railroad company know about the project, and a train came crashing through the set, killing the young woman.

This is hardly the only workplace accident in the TV and movie industry. In fact, OSHA estimates that over the past two decades, 43 people have died on various sets, and another 150 have suffered lifelong injuries, such as amputation. However, the article notes that several well-known accidents – such as the shooting death of Brandon Lee during the filming of the movie “The Crow” – have been left out of the statistics.

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In a recent opinion, the Georgia Court of Appeals recently reviewed a judgment in favor of a workers’ compensation claimant and against an employer.  In this case, the issue was whether the employer’s employment of more than three employees was “regular,” such that he was subject to the Workers’ Compensation Act.  The court looked at whether the employer regularly hired additional employees, rather than whether he hired these additional individuals continuously or constantly.
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The court stated that an award from the State Board of Workers’ Compensation granting compensation is reviewed on appeal with the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party.  In this case, Bobby Wills bid on a construction project to renovate a gymnasium in Clay County.  The County requested that Mr. Wills sign a contract with a provision requiring he supply his workers with workers’ compensation insurance. Mr. Wills signed the contract, but the provision was removed from the contract.

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Earlier this year, a 61-year-old hotel worker froze to death after she became trapped in a walk-in freezer while on the job. According to one national news source, the Atlanta woman walked into the freezer toward the end of her shift and never walked out. Her husband called her manager the next day after she didn’t come home, and her body was discovered in the walk-in freezer.

ThermostatAfter the woman’s death, the hotel performed a number of tests on the freezer door and reported that it was functioning properly. However, a follow-up inspection conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indicated that the release button inside the freezer malfunctioned. The report explains that on the day of the test, an employee entered the walk-in freezer and was unable to exit without the assistance of another employee. The medical examiner listed the woman’s cause of death as undetermined, with the added notation “found in freezer, malfunctioning exit release button.”

Since this incident, OSHA has issued a $12,500 fine and cited the employer for a “serious violation.” OSHA recommended that the hotel come up with a voluntary plan to prevent similar accidents in the future, with the understanding that there will be subsequent on-site inspections.

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