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In many Georgia workers’ compensation cases, even when one injury is covered, there is an issue of whether other injuries are related and covered under Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act. In a recent case, one state’s supreme court found that although a worker’s groin injury was covered under the workers’ compensation program, his back injury was not.

SpineThe Facts of the Case

The employee was working at an energy services company, delivering and setting up equipment. One day, he was transporting equipment from Wyoming to Nebraska. The equipment included hazardous materials, and he was required to have a sign on the back of his truck warning that hazardous materials were on board. The sign was on the truck when he left, but when he stopped shortly after beginning the journey, he saw that the sign had fallen off. The employee called his supervisor, who met up with him and helped him locate the sign. The employee and his supervisor then put the sign in the back of the supervisor’s truck. The sign weighed about 100 pounds and was in an 8.5-foot metal frame. As the two were lifting the sign into the truck, the employee stood on his toes to lift it into the truck, and he felt a sharp shooting pain down the right side of his groin.

The employee continued to Nebraska, but when he completed his assignment, he returned to his home in Idaho and saw his primary care physician. He was diagnosed with a right inguinal hernia. His employer covered his injury to his right groin.

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Many Georgia workers’ compensation cases involve only minor or temporary injuries. However, some tragic cases result in an employee’s death. In these cases, the worker’s dependents may be entitled to benefits.

Operating RoomIn a recent case, an employee filed a workers’ compensation claim against his employer for a torn thoracic aorta, which was later settled for a lump sum. As part of the settlement agreement, the employee agreed to waive all future claims, including waiving his right to reopen his claim. A year later, the employee died from his work-related injury. Two years after the employee’s death, his wife filed a motion to reopen her husband’s injury claim to assert her own claim for a workers’ compensation death benefit. The wife was not a party to her husband’s settlement. The Administrative Law Judge allowed the wife to reopen the claim and awarded her death benefits. The employer appealed, and the case eventually made its way to that state’s supreme court.

The court considered whether the wife had a separate and viable claim for death benefits, and whether she could assert her claim by reopening her husband’s settled claim. The court determined that the husband’s settlement did not prevent the wife from seeking death benefits. It explained that a state statute provided a surviving spouse with benefits if an employee died from a work-related injury. Those benefits were separate from the benefits awarded to the worker and gave the spouse the right to a separate claim.

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Often, when a Georgia workers’ compensation case is denied, the employee chooses to appeal their case to a higher court. In many cases, there can be multiple rounds of appeals, resulting in ongoing uncertainty. However, ultimately the goal of filing an appeal is to reverse a negative decision, so it is important to carefully present a case and follow the procedural requirements at each step of the way.

CalendarAppeals in Workers’ Compensation Cases

In Georgia workers’ compensation cases, the initial determination of whether benefits are appropriate is made by an administrative law judge. Either party can appeal an administrative law judge’s decision to the appellate division of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. The Board will then review the evidence and issue a decision.

If the Board finds the administrative law judge’s findings are supported by a preponderance of competent and credible evidence, the Board will accept the administrative law judge’s findings of fact. The Board generally does not hear additional testimony or receive additional evidence, but it can remand the case to an administrative law judge to take additional testimony or receive additional evidence. However, the Board may reject the administrative law judge’s findings, or it may accept the findings but come to a different legal conclusion. This may result in the approval of a claim that was initially denied.

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The Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act is intended to provide compensation to individuals who are injured at work. Workers’ compensation benefits are meant to help workers return to work, and in the case of a death, to provide compensation to workers’ dependents to ease the burden of financial loss. Workplace accidents occur every day, and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) tracks workplace injuries and seeks to improve working conditions for all workers in the United States in order to reduce workplace injuries. OSHA also investigates workplace accidents to figure out what went wrong. Recently, however, it removed a number of safety standards that may have improved working conditions for some workers.

Distant FactoriesGovernment Ends Certain Workplace Safety Standards

According to one news source, the government recently decided to end 16 workplace safety regulations that were in the process of being created. They were 16 OSHA standards that were either in pre-rule, proposed rule, or final rule stages, and that were recently eliminated, according to a government report that was recently released.

Combustible Dust Rule Created After 2008 Georgia Explosion

One rule of note that was removed was the combustible dust rule. The combustible dust rule was created to prevent combustible dust explosions after a 2008 sugar dust explosion in Georgia. The explosion occurred at a sugar processing plant in Port Wentworth, Georgia. In all, 14 workers were killed in the explosion, and 38 others were seriously injured. A U.S. Chemical Safety Hazard Investigation Board found the explosion occurred due to the large accumulation of combustible sugar dust in the facility. After the explosion, the U.S. Congress passed a bill requiring OSHA to develop a combustible dust standard, but it never took effect because the Senate never moved forward with the bill.

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Employees who are injured on the job may be able to pursue compensation through a Georgia workers’ compensation claim. However, not every application will be accepted, especially when submitted without the assistance of an attorney. In a recent case, an employee in South Carolina was working at Lowe’s when he slipped and injured his back and neck. He was diagnosed with a herniated disc.

ToolsThe employee underwent surgery but continued to experience pain, and he had difficulty walking and balancing. He then filed a workers’ compensation claim for his medical expenses and for temporary total disability benefits. After filing the claim, the employee slowly improved and was later given an impairment rating of 25% and permitted to return to work with certain restrictions. Lowe’s subsequently requested a hearing before the Workers’ Compensation Commission to decide whether the employee should be given permanent disability benefits.

Under that state’s law, if a worker sustains the loss of his or her back of 50% or more, the worker will be presumed to have suffered a total and permanent disability. At the hearing, the employee argued that he should receive permanent total disability benefits because he lost 50% or more of the use of his back. Lowe’s contended that the 25% impairment rating meant that the employee had not suffered 50% impairment and thus was only entitled to permanent partial disability. The Workers’ Compensation Commission awarded him permanent partial disability, based on a 48% impairment to his back. The employee appealed.

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An issue that comes up in many Georgia workers’ compensation cases is whether an old injury that is aggravated while on the job qualifies for benefits. In a recent workers’ compensation case, one state’s supreme court found that a judge’s decision denying workers’ compensation benefits to an employee was supported by the evidence in a case involving multiple injuries.

PalletThe Facts of the Case

Before the employee began her job at a supermarket, she had broken her ankle. A few years after she began her job at the supermarket, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic arthritis in her ankle and was told to treat her ankle at home with a brace, supports, icing, stretching, and medication. Her job required her to stand for 40 to 45 hours per week. For the next 10 years, she sometimes felt minor pain and swelling in her ankle.

Then, while working, she tripped over a pallet and twisted her right ankle. About two days later, she sought medical treatment, and the doctor found her ankle was only mildly swollen and not bruised, but x-rays showed “degenerative changes.” The doctor determined she sprained her ankle, and she continued to work at the supermarket. The employee testified that her swelling and pain worsened continuously after the injury, but the doctor noted that the employee had decreased swelling and pain at the first follow-up appointment. At the next appointment about six weeks later, she said her ankle was “about the same,” but he recorded that she had improved slightly. The employee was doing physical therapy, but soon afterward, she twisted her ankle again. Her ankle did not get better, and the doctor scheduled her for an ankle-fusion surgery.

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The Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act is meant to provide compensation to individuals who are injured on the job. The benefits provided through the Act are meant to help injured individuals return to work, but, if an individual dies as a result of the accident, the benefits are also provided to help the individual’s dependents ease the burden of their financial loss. In the event of an employee’s death due to a work injury on or after July 1, 2016, dependents are entitled to two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly wage or a maximum of $575 per week. Qualifying dependents are the employee’s spouse, children, and dependent stepchildren.

Director's ClapperA death is generally compensable if the injury triggered, activated, or aggravated a disease or dormant condition that contributed to the employee’s death. The employee has the burden of proving that the death resulted from an accident arising out of and in the course of the employee’s employment. In general, an employee’s dependents are entitled to reasonable expenses for the employee’s last sickness, burial expenses, and weekly dependency benefits.

Stuntman Dies After Work Injury

A stuntman on the show The Walking Dead recently died after he was injured in an accident on set. According to one news source, the stuntman hit his head on a concrete floor after he fell about 30 feet. He was brought to a hospital in Atlanta after the accident, but he died a few days later. The stuntman had worked on other shows and movies, and his death was the first stuntman death in 17 years. The show had been filming its eighth season and had filmed many episodes in metro Atlanta.

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In a recent decision, a Georgia appeals court considered whether an employee who was injured while traveling from Georgia to Alabama for work was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The employee worked for a company repairing railroad tracks in different states. On one Sunday afternoon, the employee left his house in Georgia and drove toward Alabama, where he was supposed to begin work on a railroad track on the following morning. On his way to the motel, the employee was injured in a car accident. The employee filed for Georgia workers’ compensation benefits, claiming he was temporarily disabled. Yet the company argued that the accident did not arise out of and in the course of his employment.

TrainWhat It Means to Arise Out of and in the Course of Employment

Under O.C.G.A. 34-9-1(4) of Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act, in order to be eligible for benefits, an injured employee must prove that their injury was related to their job. Specifically, an employee must show that the accidental injury arose out of and in the course of his or her employment. The requirement that the injury arises out of the employment means that there has to be a causal connection between the employee’s job and the injury. The requirement that the injury occurs in the course of employment considers the time, place, and circumstances of the injury.

Generally, injuries that occur when an employee is commuting to and from work do not arise out of and in the course of employment because courts believe that most jobs require some form of commute, which is not necessarily related to the functions of the job. In this case, the employee was traveling to a motel near the job site when the injury occurred. Accordingly, the court found the employee’s injury was not compensable.

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Georgia workers’ compensation cases are often centered around the question of whether an employee’s injury was related to his employment. In some cases, injuries worsen over time, and an employee may need to seek additional compensation. However, employers often contest these claims. In a recent case, an appellate court considered whether a subsequent injury barred the employee from recovering workers’ compensation benefits for an earlier work-related injury. The employee had injured his back at work when he caught a falling ladder. He applied for workers’ compensation benefits and was awarded temporary total disability benefits and temporary partial disability benefits.

Wooden LadderLater, the employee was injured outside work. The employee filed for benefits again, claiming that the second injury aggravated his existing injury. The workers’ compensation commission awarded him permanent partial disability benefits. The commission found his disability was partly caused by his work injury and partly due to pre-existing and subsequent conditions. Years later, the employee moved to reopen the case because he said his back condition had worsened. The case was reopened, but the commission found his second injury was a subsequent intervening event that broke the link between the work injury and his condition. The employee appealed the decision.

An appeals court explained that an award for temporary disability benefits considers the most recent injury, but an award for permanent disability benefits considers all of the injuries that caused the permanent disability. Therefore, the court determined that if an employee incurs an accidental injury and obtains workers’ compensation benefits, and then he incurs a subsequent intervening event, the intervening event does not preclude the employee from receiving additional permanent partial disability benefits for a decline in the employee’s condition. That is, even if there is a subsequent intervening event, the employee can still demonstrate that the employee’s condition has worsened and that the condition was caused by the work-related injury.

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In a recent opinion, a state supreme court held that an employee could receive increased workers’ compensation benefits years after his accident, even after a doctor testified that the employee’s condition had not changed. The employee worked at a community organization and suffered a back injury at work in 2007 when his van was hit from behind. He returned to work, but in 2010, he had to stop working due to the pain from the injury. The employee filed for workers’ compensation benefits. The employer disputed the claim, arguing he was not impaired. In 2010, a judge awarded the employee permanent partial disability benefits and found he had a physical impairment rating of 13%.

Car AccidentIn 2014, the employee claimed that his condition had worsened and requested to reopen his case. The employee introduced medical reports from two other doctors. One doctor found the employee had a 47% permanent impairment rating, and the other found he had a 28% permanent impairment rating. The employer also introduced a medical report from a doctor who found the employee had a 23% permanent impairment rating. The second judge found the employee had a physical impairment rating of 23%.

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