Recently in Georgia Workers' Compensation Category

March 30, 2015

Hoyle v. DTJ Enters., Inc. - Intentional Torts and Employers

The intent of workers' compensation law is to ensure costs resulting from industrial accidents and conditions are borne largely by industry. By ensuring workers receive definite and speedy payments for medical expenses and lost wages incurred for on-the-job injuries and illnesses, they forfeit the right to pursue further litigation.
This is true across the country, and it's referred to as "exclusive remedy." It means workers' compensation is the exclusive remedy through which workers can be compensated for occupational ailments or injuries. Companies are otherwise immune from civil litigation on these matters.

But, as with all areas of law, there are exceptions. There is the third-party litigation that can be brought against parties who are not considered employers. Beyond that, there is the realm of "intentional tort" by employers.

This has been very narrowly interpreted by most courts. In some states, it's all but impossible to bring such a claim. The definition generally holds anything less than outright, specific intention on the employer's part is insufficient to permit exception to the exclusivity rule. This typically is not going to extend to situations in which employer acts with indifference or even creates an exceptionally or unlawfully hazardous work environment. It instead means the actual intent to cause harm to the worker.

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March 20, 2015

Reports: Workers' Compensation Protections on Chopping Block

Two reports. One by NPR and ProPublica. The other by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Released at the same time. Both on the issue of cuts to workers' compensation nationwide. worker2.jpg

Same conclusions: Workers are quickly losing the aspects that made the bargain of workers' compensation worthwhile to employees. Due to legislative action in the last decade, benefits are not easily obtained and the monthly payouts are often far less than they should be. When the exclusive remedy of workers' compensation was established, workers traded the right to sue employers for negligence related to on-the-job injuries in exchange for assurance that their company would subsidize their basic needs while they recovered.

There is now a wide-ranging disparity of these benefits among states, and if action isn't taken soon, we will see this trend continue.

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February 28, 2015

Sullwold v. Salvation Army - Heart Attack at Home Deemed Compensable

In most cases, injuries that happen at home or are attributed to an internal, personal condition will not be compensated through workers' compensation insurance. That's because injuries must arise out of and in the course of one's employment.
However, the recent case of Sullwold v. Salvation Army, before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, proves there are always exceptions.

The case involved a high-level executive for a non-profit organization who died of a heart attack while walking on the treadmill at home. Three factors made this case different than most others we might see in similar circumstances. The first is that plaintiff was given permission to work from home on some occasions, and this was one of those. The second is that although he was on a treadmill when he suffered the heart attack, he was working from his smartphone as he walked. And finally, his widow was able to produce evidence indicating the heart attack was caused in large part due to work-related stress.

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February 10, 2015

Morales v. Zenith Ins. Co. - 11th Circuit Affirms Exclusive Remedy Provision

In a decision aligned with that of the Florida Supreme Court, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals - the same one that oversees the review of Georgia cases - backed the exclusive remedy provision of workers' compensation law as the sole source of compensation for a deceased worker's family.
The exclusive remedy provision - which is woven into workers' compensation laws in all 50 states - strips workers of the right to sue employers, even when the incident leading to injury or death was the result of negligence. Rare exceptions are made in certain states when it can be shown an employer displayed wanton or reckless disregard for the safety of workers. However, in most cases, workers and their families will be limited to workers' compensation benefits from an employer.

Some situations may be ripe for civil litigation against a third-party wrongdoer, but that will depend heavily on the underlying circumstances.

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February 5, 2015

State ex rel McCormick v. McDonald's - Maximum Medical Improvement

In workers' compensation law, the concept of maximum medical improvement can be an especially thorny one. That's because this determination spurs important questions about the continuation and amount of benefits.
Maximum medical improvement is considered the point at which a worker's medical condition has stabilized to the point that any further improvement isn't likely, even in spite of ongoing treatment or rehabilitation. Essentially, it's a plateau, meaning the worker is "as good as he/she is going to get."

This can indicate full recovery, but it also can simply mean the patient is not going to get any better. It is from this point a determination can be made regarding permanent partial impairment.

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January 31, 2015

Demetres v. East West Construction - Subcontractor Deemed "Co-Employee"

When a worker suffers an on-the-job injury, state law holds workers' compensation benefits are the sole source of compensation a worker can receive, with few exceptions. These benefits are considered the "exclusive remedy" a worker can pursue against an employer.
Other third parties may still be vulnerable to a negligence lawsuit, but plaintiffs should bear in mind that some are still statutorily protected under workers' compensation law in some cases.

For example, a negligent third-party driver could be held liable, as could potentially the property owner of a construction site. However, there are some exceptions. Co-workers, for example, are usually protected. (A 2012 Georgia Supreme Court decision in Smith v. Ellis held co-workers could potentially be held liable for injuries caused if their negligent actions occurred outside the course and scope of their employment.)

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January 6, 2015

Martin County Coal Co. v. Goble - On Permanent Psychological Impairments

In most work-related injury claims, the primary focus is on physical injuries. However, there are some cases in which psychological injuries may have been sustained as well as a result of the physical injury or related work incident.
Such injuries, which may include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), pain disorder and adjustment disorders, are more difficult to prove to state workers' compensation board officials. This is particularly true when injured workers are seeking to show permanent psychological injuries.

But as the recent case of Martin County Coal Co. v. Goble, it most certainly is possible with the proper evidence.

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October 30, 2014

Humphrey v. Lowe's - Workers' Compensation After Voluntary Exit

Georgia workers' compensation injury claims are rarely straightforward, even when it's clear injury occurred in the scope and course of employment.
This is especially true with regard to temporary total disability benefits when a worker quits, is fired or is laid-off for reasons unrelated to the injury.

Temporary total disability (TTD) benefits are those designed to help workers recover lost income when they are unable to work due to a job-related injury. Workers qualify if they cannot do the kind of work they did before because of the accident. If an employee is deemed entitled to collect temporary total disability benefits, those may continue until:

  • He returns to work

  • His doctor says he can return to work

  • His doctor says he has permanent disability that is not expected to improve (at which point you can seek permanent disability benefits)

  • More than 400 weeks have passed since the injury (unless injuries are catastrophic, in which they case benefits could continue indefinitely)

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October 20, 2014

Barzey v. City of Cuthbert - Non-Dependent Parent Precluded From Workers' Comp Death Benefits

The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of a provision of the Workers' Compensation Act that precludes non-dependent parents from recovering benefits following the death of an adult child killed in the course of employment.
In Barzey v. City of Cuthbert, plaintiff argued the provision violated her constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. The state supreme court disagreed, finding the law was sound, even though it left plaintiff with virtually no means of monetary recovery for her son's death.

Workers' compensation, the court reasoned, is established to allow exclusive remedy to an employee's heir's for the worker's death during the course of employment, and the act expressly states that compensation for the death of a worker is to be payable only to dependents, and even then, only during dependency.

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October 10, 2014

Third-Party Co-Worker Lawsuit After Workers' Comp Claim

After filing a workers' compensation claim in Georgia, there may be other avenues of compensation available. These include third-party lawsuits, which can be brought against anyone from manufacturers of defective products to owners of a construction site where an injury occurred.
In some situations, third-party lawsuits may be brought against co-workers if it can be shown their negligent actions were proximate cause of your injuries. However, there is one key point that must be proven in order to bring a claim in these cases. It will need to be proven the co-worker was acting outside the scope of his or her employment at the time he or she caused the injury.

The Georgia Supreme Court set this precedent rather recently in the 2012 case of Smith v. Ellis, reversing the precedent set previously by the Court of Appeals ten years earlier in Ridley v. Monroe. The principle question in Smith was whether a worker who files for - and receives - workers' compensation in exchange for a no liability settlement with his employer is then allowed to turn around and sue the co-employee who caused the injury. The appellate court had answered "No" in Ridley, holding OCGA 34-9-11(a) bars such recovery because the employee has already obtained relief. The state supreme court held that while Ridley was correctly decided, and workers are barred from collecting compensation from co-workers acting within the scope of employment at the time of an accident, they may pursue damages from a co-worker as third-party if the co-worker was acting outside the scope of employment.

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October 1, 2014

Marta v. Reid - Late Payments in Workers' Compensation Claims

The Georgia Legislature recognized that when workers are injured on-the-job, they are entitled not only to receive adequate compensation, but also to obtain those benefits in a timely manner. In order to give employers incentive to comply, lawmakers passed a provision of OCGA 34-9-221 that allows for injured employees to seek the imposition of statutory penalties for late benefits payments.
Specifically, the law states benefits must be paid weekly, with the first becoming due on the 21st day after employer has knowledge of injury or death and has to be paid via electronic transfer. Payments that are not paid when due automatically accrue a 15 percent late penalty. Payments that are more than 20 days late accrue a 20 percent late fee.

These late penalties are payable not to the state but directly to the injured worker. However, that injured worker needs to file a claim for benefits, and it helps to have an experienced workers' compensation lawyer. Also, it's important to make those claims within a timely fashion. Otherwise, as the recent case of Marta v. Reid illustrates, the opportunity may be forever lost.

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September 14, 2014

Hayes v. Rosenbaum Signs - Employer Can't Take Inconsistent Positions on Work Injury Claim

Our Atlanta work injury lawyers expect employers to challenge workers' compensation claims on the grounds that they weren't actually caused by job duties. We also sometimes anticipate challenges to ongoing benefits, based on argument the underlying work injury has largely healed and other conditions have come into play.
However, in the recent case of Hayes v. Rosenbaum Signs, the employer initially agreed to cover medical costs. But then the employer stopped. When the worker filed a petition, the employer conceded the worker's job was a major contributing factor to his need for medical treatment. The case was dismissed. A year later, the employer again denied treatment, this time based on an evaluation by a new doctor indicating the original injury was likely not work-related.

Ultimately, the South Dakota Supreme Court was asked to weigh in the matter, and decide whether the employer was judicially estopped from taking this kind of inconsistent position.

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August 25, 2014

Harris v. Millennium Hotel - Same-Sex Partnership and Workers' Compensation Benefits

Workers' compensation benefits are intended to aid an employee and his or her dependents in the event serious injury or death arises in the course of job-related functions.
Generally, for purposes of benefit collection, "spouses" are defined under workers' compensation law as individuals married to injured workers. Usually, live-in boyfriends and girlfriends are excluded from receiving workers' compensation benefits. But what if the couple is precluded by law from marrying?

Georgia, like many other states, has implemented a same-sex marriage ban that forbids homosexual couples from being married. The legislature banned it in 1996, and a constitutional amendment underscoring the same was passed in 2004.

Still, our Atlanta workers' compensation attorneys recognize there may be some hope for homosexual couples in this regard, given the recent precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court's determination that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional, as well as the Alaska Supreme Court in Harris v. Millennium Hotel.

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August 20, 2014

Gregory v. Cott - Workers' Compensation Exclusive Remedy for Some Injured Health Workers

Health care workers, including those who provide in-home care, are at high risk for violence on the job, especially when working with patients suffering from dementia, accompanied by aggression.
However, these workers may have difficulty securing damages from the patient and/or the patient's family if injured in an attack by the patient. In many of these cases, our Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers recognize workers' compensation benefits are likely to be the only remedy.

The recent case of Gregory v. Cott, decided recently by the California Supreme Court, illustrates the issues.

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August 10, 2014

Cruz v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board - Court Weighs Proof Burden for Injured Undocumented Workers

It's been well-established by courts across the country - including Georgia - that undocumented and illegal immigrants who sustain work injuries are entitled to collect worker's compensation insurance benefits from their employer.
Further, our Atlanta workers' compensation attorneys know that one of the key hurdles in any work injury claim is proving the worker has been unable to obtain gainful employment since the injury and proximately as a result of the disability.

What the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled in a split decision in Cruz v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, where the employer sought to cut benefits to an injured, undocumented worker, was that the employer had the burden of proof with regard to the assertion that the worker was unable to find work because of his undocumented status, rather than his work injury. Additionally, the court found the worker's invocation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during a hearing before the state worker's compensation board didn't constitute substantial evidence of the worker's alleged lack of legal status to work in the U.S.

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