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Although Georgia workers are generally entitled to recover compensation from their employers for workplace injuries, whether independent contractors are entitled to Georgia workers’ compensation benefits can be tricky. In a recent case, a court considered whether an independent contractor was entitled to bring a premises liability claim against a homeowner after he was injured on the property.

RoofIn that case, the plaintiff was washing windows on a house when he fell off the roof of the defendant’s house. He brought a premises liability claim against the homeowner, arguing that loose rocks and sand on the roof caused him to fall and that they constituted a dangerous condition.

The trial court found that the plaintiff could not bring his claim because he was an independent contractor, and the plaintiff appealed. Under that state’s law, an independent contractor generally cannot sue the hirer of the contractor for injuries suffered in the workplace. However, an independent contractor can sue if the hirer exercises control over the work in a way that contributes to the injury, or if the hirer fails to warn the contractor of a concealed dangerous condition on the property. The plaintiff claimed that the hirer had a dangerous condition on the property, in part because he was forced to walk along a narrow ledge along the roof because piping and mechanical equipment were blocking a safer path. The homeowner provided video and photo evidence taken over three years after the incident that showed individuals walking around the equipment and along a safer path.

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Some Georgia workers’ compensation claimants have difficulty proving a workers’ compensation claim if they have pre-existing conditions. In these cases, employers may argue that the pre-existing condition caused the injury rather than an on-the-job incident.

Wet Floor SignIn a recent case, a court considered whether a woman was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits after she was injured at work. The woman claimed that she sustained a brain injury after she slipped and fell while working at a grocery store. Her employer argued that the brain injury was not related to her employment.

After a hearing before an administrative law judge, the judge found that the woman fell after fainting due to her heart condition, rather than because she slipped. At the hearing, the claimant testified that she told her husband that she passed out. Her husband also testified that the she told him that she had slipped. However, a customer testified that the woman passed out, and a co-worker explained the woman was not acting like herself that day. Her co-worker and manager both testified that she said she did not know how she ended up on the floor.

In addition, the claimant had a history of arrhythmia and had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator device implanted in 2011. Her doctor testified that arrhythmia can cause a person’s blood pressure to drop, causing a person to faint. The woman also told medical personnel that she had fainted a week before the incident at the store. Based on this evidence, the state’s supreme court found that the judge was correct and that the woman failed to show that there was a causal relationship between the fall and her employment.

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Georgia employees often are limited to pursuing compensation from an employee through the Georgia workers’ compensation act. However, in some cases, there are exceptions. In a recent workers’ compensation case, a plaintiff contended that his employer was liable for his injuries because he made an unsafe repair to equipment he used, causing his injuries.

ExcavatorIn that case, the plaintiff claimed that he was injured while he was at work. He was operating an excavator while trying to pull a catch basin out of the ground. The excavator was “running at full throttle,” slipped off the catch basin, and hit the plaintiff.

The plaintiff brought a claim against his employer, alleging that he was injured due to the defendants’ reckless conduct. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant was reckless in not having the excavator properly repaired, even though the employer knew that people operating the excavator would likely sustain serious bodily injuries. He claimed that the defendants made a temporary repair to the excavator that made it run at full throttle, making a jerking action.

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Some Georgia workers’ compensation claims arise from occupational diseases that develop over a period of time, rather than an occupational injury. These claims can be complicated and require claimants to prove certain additional facts. In a recent case, one state’s supreme court considered whether a claimant’s Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection was a compensable occupational disease.

KittenThe claimant was a doctor who worked at a health clinic. He developed an infection in his right hand about eight months after he started working at the clinic. At the time, he told his doctor that the infection was likely caused by a cat scratch from a few weeks earlier. The claimant’s infection later spread throughout his body, causing him two strokes and requiring him to undergo numerous surgeries. The claimant then brought an occupational disease claim against his employer for workers’ compensation benefits. After his claim was denied, he appealed, and his case was eventually heard by the state’s supreme court.

The claimant argued that the previous state’s Commission mistakenly required him to show that he acquired the disease at the health clinic and that it was not present before his employment there. The state’s supreme court agreed. It explained that under the court’s interpretation of its state law, an occupational disease can be “incurred” while working for a series of employers before the disease manifests itself, but only the last employer is liable to the claimant.

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Some Georgia workers’ compensation claims turn out to be more than just a workers’ compensation claim. In a recent case, a court considered whether an employee could bring a fraud claim against his employer after the employer denied his workers’ compensation claim.

GavelIn that case, according to the facts alleged in the complaint, the employee needed to move bags of concrete mix while he was working at a public transportation company. Since he had previously injured his back, and the concrete mix bag weighed 90 pounds, the employee asked his supervisor for permission to break down the bag into lighter bags or to have another employee help him lift the bag. The supervisor refused and ordered him to lift the bag.

The employee picked up the bag, immediately felt pain in his back, and partially collapsed. His supervisor asked him why he dropped the bag, and he told him it was because he injured his back when he lifted the bag. The employee filled out a workers’ compensation claim form the next day. His supervisor later filled out a work report, in which he wrote that he did not witness the employee’s injury. The supervisor was later deposed and testified that the employee did not request an accommodation and that he did not see him injure himself. The employer subsequently denied the employee’s workers’ compensation claim.

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In some Georgia workers’ compensation cases, the consequences of the workplace injury are tragic. In the event of the death of a worker, the worker’s family is generally entitled to death benefits under Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act to ease the financial burden on the family. These benefits normally include burial expenses, as well as weekly ongoing compensation for the employee’s dependents.

Movie CameraUnder current law, for a compensable work injury, the employer must pay the reasonable expenses of the employee’s burial, up to $7,500. In addition, the worker’s dependents are entitled to weekly compensation of two-thirds of the worker’s weekly income, up to a maximum of $575 per week. Dependents normally include the worker’s spouse, children, and dependent stepchildren.

However, employers often dispute that a claim is compensable to avoid paying death benefits under the Act. The employer may claim that the worker was not an actual employee or that the injury did not take place on the job. A person claiming benefits must show that the death resulted instantly from an accident arising out of and in the course of employment, or that during a period of disability caused by an accident, the worker died as a result.

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In some Georgia workers’ compensation cases, disputes arise not over the accident itself but over which treatments are covered under workers’ compensation benefits. In one recent case, the employer disputed whether a knee replacement surgery two years after the work injury was required because of the work injury or because of a preexisting condition.

SurgeryIn that case, after an electrician slipped on the step of a truck at work, his employer accepted that the injury to his knee was compensable for workers’ compensation benefits and authorized treatment with an orthopedic surgeon. The same surgeon had seen the employee about two years before the work injury and noted significant pain, which suggested either arthritis or a preexisting tear, but he did not find a need for treatment at the time. After the work injury, the surgeon found significant preexisting left knee arthritis. The employee had more pain behind his left kneecap and suggested a tear in his medial meniscus. The surgeon recommended left knee surgical repair, and the employer authorized the repair.

About two years after the work injury, and after the surgeon had operated on the employee, the surgeon diagnosed the employee with osteoarthritis of his left knee and a left knee medial meniscus tear, recommending a left total knee replacement. He later testified that the employee’s preexisting condition was the major contributing cause of the need for the knee replacement. The employee requested authorization for the knee replacement, but the employer asserted that it was not compensable. The employer argued that the employee’s arthritis was a preexisting condition and that the knee replacement was required because of the condition, and the work injury was not the major contributing cause of the knee replacement.

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In some Georgia workers’ compensation cases, the plaintiffs have to consider not only workers’ compensation claims but also separate claims against third parties. In a recent case before one state’s supreme court, the court considered whether the plaintiff was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits after the plaintiff had already settled a claim against a third party.

Utility PoleIn that case, the plaintiff injured his neck and shoulder while he was working as a utility technician. He filed a workers’ compensation claim, and his employer accepted the claim as compensable. When he was supposed to return to work, the plaintiff was still in too much pain, and his treating doctor informed him that he would provide him with an out-of-work note that he could pick up from the office.

On his way to pick up the note, the plaintiff was in a car crash and suffered a traumatic brain injury. The plaintiff’s wife contacted the plaintiff’s supervisor and explained the circumstances of his car accident, and the plaintiff later discussed it with his supervisor and his safety manager. The plaintiff hired a separate attorney for a personal injury claim related to the car crash. His personal injury attorney told his health insurance company that he was not “at work” when he was in the car crash, and therefore the health insurance company should cover his injuries. He then settled his personal injury claim for around $45,000.

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The first question in almost any Georgia workers’ compensation case is when the claim has to be filed. This is because statutes of limitations and statutes of repose can limit the time during which an individual can file a claim.

Alarm ClockIn a recent case, one state’s supreme court considered the constitutionality of a statute limiting the time to bring a workers’ compensation claim. Under that state’s workers’ compensation act, a provision limited the time an injured worker has to prove a claim. The statute stated that an employee attempting to prove a workers’ compensation claim has to show that the employee was owed compensation within 12 years of the date of the accident.

In that case, two employees had separately filed workers’ compensation claims and had received benefits, and in both cases, the employees’ conditions worsened later. Both employees filed claims for additional benefits to receive permanent total disability benefits more than 12 years after the workplace accidents had occurred. The employees argued the statute was unconstitutional under that state’s constitution.

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Often in Georgia workers’ compensation cases, workers are focused on replacing their income while they are injured. However, workers may forget that they may be also entitled to rehabilitation services. In a recent case, one state’s supreme court recently approved a two-year training program for an injured worker to pursue a new career.

Graduation CapThe employee injured his arm at work, and the court later ruled that the employee was entitled to a vocational rehabilitation evaluation. The employee and the employer agreed on a vocational rehabilitation counselor, who created a rehabilitation plan for the employee. In the employee’s case, he could not return to the same employer because the employer did not have suitable work available for him with his injury, and there were no viable opportunities of similar pay with other employers.

The rehabilitation counselor recommended that the employee participate in formal training that would lead to employment in another career field. She suggested that he obtain a two-year associate’s degree in agriculture at a community college, based on his interest in agriculture. However, the court’s vocational rehabilitation specialist disagreed with the plan. The specialist believed the formal training was not necessary or appropriate. The specialist reasoned that there were job openings of similar pay to what he would make after the training program and that formal training was not necessary. The counselor explained that the employee’s goal was to be a supervisor or manager, and typically training is required for those positions. The employer petitioned the court to eliminate the treatment, and the employee petitioned the court to approve it.

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