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Supreme Court of Georgia Determines a Worker’s Deliberate Disobedience of a Safety Rule May Prevent Workers’ Compensation Eligibility

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a written opinion in a workers’ compensation case brought by a man who was injured on the job while descending from a cell phone tower. The court was tasked with determining whether the employee was prevented from obtaining workers’ compensation benefits because his injury allegedly was caused when he disregarded a known safety rule. Ultimately, the court determined that “willful misconduct” can, but does not necessarily, prevent workers’ compensation eligibility, and it remanded the case for further fact-finding.

Power LinesThe Facts of the Case

The worker in the case was an employee of a telecom company. The worker’s job required that he climb cell phone towers. It was company policy for workers to climb down the towers when their job was complete. However, the worker decided to use a controlled descent instead, against company policy and his co-worker’s advice.

During the controlled descent, the plaintiff fell and was seriously injured. He filed for workers’ compensation benefits for the period of time while he was recovering. However, the employer contested the worker’s eligibility, and an administrative law judge determined that his “willful misconduct” prevented him from obtaining benefits.

The Case Goes Through Multiple Appeals

The worker appealed to the intermediate appellate court, which reversed the administrative law judge’s decision. That court held that willful misconduct on its own was insufficient to prevent workers’ compensation eligibility. The case was then appealed up to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

The high court reversed the intermediate appellate court and used the case as an opportunity to clarify how lower courts should handle cases in which “deliberate disobedience” of a safety rule may have been the cause of a worker’s injury. The court explained that the intermediate court was correct to note that willful misconduct is, by itself, not enough to bar workers’ compensation eligibility. However, it may be appropriate depending on the circumstances. Specifically, the court explained that a worker is ineligible for benefits if he acts with knowledge that his acts were “likely to result in serious injury, or with the wanton and reckless disregard of its probable consequences.”

Here, the intermediate court made the determination that the worker did not act with knowledge of the consequences. However, the Supreme Court of Georgia explained that this was a finding that should have been made by the Workers’ Compensation Board, rather than an appellate court. Thus, the court remanded the case back to the Board so that it could conduct the proper analysis and determine whether the worker was eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Have You Been Injured While on the Job?

If you have recently been injured in a Georgia workplace accident, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits while you recover from your injuries. However, as the case discussed above illustrates, benefits are never guaranteed, and sometimes employers will contest an injured worker’s eligibility for benefits. The skilled workers’ compensation attorneys at J. Franklin Burns, P.C. have extensive experience handling a wide variety of workers’ compensation cases. Call 404-303-7770 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today.

More Blog Entries:

OSHA Determines Fatal Workplace Accident in Auto Parts Plant Was Preventable, Feb. 22, 2017, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

Georgia School Workers Have a Difficult Time Obtaining Workers’ Compensation Benefits, March 7, 2017, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog