Articles Posted in Georgia Workers’ Compensation

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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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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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Lawmakers in Oklahoma passed legislation three years ago that gave companies the ability to “opt out” of the state’s workers’ compensation system and write their own plans. It was yet another example of the gradual whittling away of injured workers’ rights across the country. Large companies were emboldened by this success and began lobbying heavily for similar measures in other states, including Georgia. courthouse

Then came the stories about how unfair this opt-out system was for workers. Suddenly, employers were responsible for setting the terms of which injuries they would cover and which they would not. Workers were held to varying standards about when they had to report their workplace injuries. Some were given a month, others just a day. A worker at one company might be paid a certain amount for a finger amputation, while another might receive far less. Many workers were having to rely on taxpayer-funded programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, to cover the cost of their work-related injuries.

Now, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has ended the opt-out program in that state. In Vasquez v. Dillard’s, the court declared Oklahoma’s version of opt-out unconstitutional. The court reasoned these opt-out plans treated one group of workers differently from all others in the state. The primary example given was the amount of time workers had to report claims at this retail store:  just one day. Normally, workers in the state have 30 days.

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Injured workers who seek remedy through the appellate process often find themselves at odds with “independent medical examiners,” explains a recent report by NBCdoctor5

Although the report focuses mainly on cases from the Bay Area of California, this issue is applicable nationally, including here in Georgia. As our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys often need to explain, “independent” medical examiners aren’t exactly “independent.” These health care professionals are often on contract with the employer (or the insurance company) and have a vested interest in keeping the employer/insurer happy in order to retain these lucrative contracts. Claimants are sometimes required to undergo an independent medical exam as part of their case.

In the NBC analysis, reporters noted that updated procedures in California require injured workers who’ve been denied benefits to have their case reviewed by a state-contracted, for-profit company. These “Independent Medical Reviews” involve payment to anonymous doctors who never actually examine the patient one-on-one and who determine eligibility based on specific standard guidelines. The news report indicated that between 2013 and 2015, injured workers contested some 600,000 denials of medical treatment following work-related injuries. 90 percent of those denials were upheld following an appeal to the independent medical review.  Continue reading →

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Survivors of those who are killed on-the-job may be entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits. Most of the time, these benefits will preclude any further claim against an employer under the workers’ compensation exclusivity provision. That is, workers’ compensation is the only remedy one can have against an employer for a work-related accident or illness. sad1

In the recent case of Velecela v. All Habitat Servs., the plaintiff argued before the Connecticut Supreme Court that she should be allowed to pursue damages against her husband’s former employer for bystander emotional distress after finding her husband deceased under a vehicle one day when she came to bring him lunch at work. Employer argued that because she had already collected workers’ compensation death benefits, her claim was precluded.

Ultimately, the state high court sided with the employer, finding that because her claim for emotional distress was a derivative claim of the worker’s injury, her claim was barred by workers’ compensation exclusivity provisions.  Continue reading →

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Stephen Halton Jr. was on his way to save a life, while working toward a better life for his family. A medical worker at a large hospital in Northeast Ohio, Halton was on-call for the early-morning shift. He got word around midnight: Be here by 6 a.m. A patient needs a liver transplant. We need your help. hospitalhall

The hospital technician had been working the overtime so he could help afford a better education for his two children. To make sure he could make it to work on time, he got to the inner-city bus stop by 4 a.m. That’s where, police say, he was fatally shot by a third party.

Now, his family is fighting for the workers’ compensation benefits they insist he is owed. The hospital says it isn’t responsible for a random act of violence that occurred while Halton was on his way to work. But his family argues he would not have been at that bus stop had he not specifically been called in for a job assignment. The hospital argues his on-call shift didn’t start until 6 a.m. His family counters that because his on-call contract clearly states he was to be paid for the time he spent returning to the hospital that he was acting in the course and scope of employment 1.5 hours before he actually started working.  Continue reading →

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The goal for most injured employees collecting workers’ compensation is to eventually return to work. However, doing so can have consequences for your benefits. That’s why it’s important to consult with your lawyer before returning to work. workboots

In addition to the coverage of medical bills, workers’ compensation benefits in Georgia are supposed to cover a portion of wage losses if a person is unable to work for a time. Even if that person returns to work, they may still collect some of those benefits – but only if they are earning less than they did before as a result of their disability.

A worker who earns more than they did before while still collecting benefits may find themselves running afoul of the system. Take for example the recent case of State ex rel. Perez v. Indus. Comm’n, a case recently weighed by the Ohio Supreme Court.  Continue reading →

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The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has fined a Georgia company for failing to protect workers on at least seven different occasions from fall hazards. Workers were reportedly exposed to hazards of up to 13 feet on an Alabama project site. scaffolding2

The company, a masonry firm, was fined $130,000. OSHA inspectors reportedly observed employees toiling on second-story scaffolding with no personal fall arrest system or guardrails. There was also allegedly no safe access or egress from the scaffolding via a sturdy ladder.

OSHA reportedly had investigators who came out to inspect this particular project on six different occasions over the course of five years and it has cited the company for fall hazards on each and every one of those visits.  Continue reading →

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Georgia work injuries were reported following an explosion at a Newnan aluminum company. So powerful was the blast, witnesses say, it rocked buildings up to a mile away in this suburb some 35 miles south of Atlanta. alumninum

Five workers were hospitalized, two at the Atlanta Medical Center and three at a local hospital, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. One of those workers remained in critical condition days after the accident.

The president of Bonnell Aluminum issued a statement extending his wishes for the workers’ speedy recoveries. The plant had to be evacuated and closed while the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) responded alongside local officials and company administrators to ascertain the cause of the blast.  Continue reading →