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Appeals Court Upholds Award in Favor of Injured Georgia Worker Because Employer Willfully Violated Workers’ Compensation Act

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.

To complete the construction project, Mr. Wills hired claimant Johnnie Brown and two other men. Mr. Brown had worked for Mr. Wills on other jobs, over the course of six or seven years. The men had an unwritten understanding that if anyone was hurt on a job, that person would pay their own medical bills. While working on the Clay County project, Mr. Brown slipped off the roof, injuring his leg. This injury affected his ability to return to work.

Mr. Brown brought a workers’ compensation claim against Mr. Wills and Clay County.  The Board granted Mr. Brown’s claim against Mr. Wills but found that the county was not a statutory employer and denied his claim against Clay County.  The Board’s initial finding was affirmed by the Appellate Division, and the superior court then affirmed.

On appeal, Mr. Wills argued that the superior court erred in finding that he was subject to the provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act.  The court stated that Georgia workers’ compensation law holds that the law applies to people, firms, or companies that employ at least three employees.  Mr. Wills contended that his three additional people for the Clay County job were not “regularly in service,” as set forth in the law.

The definition of the phrase “regularly in service,” according to the court and cited precedent, means more or less permanently adapted to the business at the time. It does not mean that the workers must be there constantly, for the work can be intermittent yet regular.

In this case, Mr. Brown testified that he and Mr. Wills worked with another person two to three times a year. Mr. Wills testified that near the time of the Clay County job, he had two other jobs.  He had hired three or four employees for these other jobs.

The court stated the rule that when an employer is required to hire more people, the Workers’ Compensation Act applies if the employees were going to be retained for a reasonably definite amount of time.  The court stated that with the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to Mr. Brown, there was no error in the superior court’s order affirming the Appellate Division’s decision. Mr. Wills employed three employees regularly and was therefore subject to the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Regarding Mr. Wills’ contention that it was an error for the superior court to find that he willfully failed to secure workers’ compensation coverage, the court stated there had been no error because he was subject to the Act.  Georgia law requires an employer that is liable under the Act to maintain insurance or to provide financial information making clear it can self-pay.  When an employer does not, by either refusal or willful neglect, the Board can assess an additional 10 percent compensation and can fix attorney’s fees to be paid by the employer.

The court here found that the Board is also granted discretion on whether to award penalties. According to the appellate court, there was some evidence supporting the Board’s finding that Mr. Wills knew he would need three other workers to complete the job.  Nevertheless, he informed the County he would not be required to obtain workers’ compensation coverage under the Act. The appellate court stated this finding supported the Board’s conclusion that Mr. Wills willfully violated the Act when he failed to maintain coverage.

Have You Lost a Loved One in a Georgia Workplace Accident?

If you have recently lost a loved one in a Georgia workplace accident, you may be entitled to long-term workers’ compensation death benefits. The workers’ compensation program is a no-fault program, meaning that bereaved loved ones will normally be spared the emotionally difficult task of establishing liability. However, workers’ compensation claims are not always approved, for a variety of reasons. Call Attorney J. Franklin Burns, a well-respected and established workers’ compensation attorney, to set up a free consultation. We accept cases throughout Atlanta and the surrounding areas. Call 404-303-7770 today to get started.

More Blog Entries:

OSHA Issues Fine Against Georgia-Based Recycling Company for Repeated Violations, Nov. 2, 2016, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

Occupational Safety and Health Administration Proposes New Rules for Some Workplaces, Oct. 19, 2016, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog