Articles Posted in Georgia Work Accidents

Last year, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a workers’ compensation case that shows how strictly the state’s statutes of limitations will be enforced against injured workers who do not file a timely claim. In the recent case, the state’s high court determined that an intermediate appellate court improperly held that the injured worker’s claim for benefits was not time-barred by the two-year statute of limitations. As a result of the most recent ruling, the injured worker will not be entitled to the benefits he once enjoyed.

The Facts of the Case

W.B. was an employee in a wood-processing plant. In 1993, W.B. fell through a floor while on the job, and his leg landed in a moving auger. W.B.’s leg had to be immediately amputated below the knee.

Initially, W.B. was approved for temporary total disability (TTD) benefits. After he recovered, he was fit with a prosthetic leg and was able to return to work. Because of his previous injuries, upon his return to work, he took on a supervisory position that was less physically demanding. During this time, his TTD benefits were replaced by permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits. His last PPD payment was issued in 1998.

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Earlier this month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it was recommending that a Gainesville, Georgia recycling plant be fined upwards of $100,000 for several alleged serious safety violations. According to a recent news report documenting OSHA’s decision to levy the fines, the violations involved apparent amputation hazards, fire hazards, and a failure to implement a noise-reduction monitoring policy.

In all, OSHA noted 21 alleged serious errors and another three other-than-serious violations. Apparently, several dangerous machines did not have the required guards to prevent a worker’s hand or arm from getting caught up in the machine and potentially amputated. Additionally, the employer allegedly failed to provide all employees with personal protective clothing.

An OSHA representative told reporters that these alleged violations are “preventable by taking basic safety precautions.” However, the company’s alleged failure to meet these basic requirements increased the likelihood of a serious or fatal workplace injury.

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Workplace accidents are not limited to just a few industries. While most people think of workplace accidents occurring on construction sites and in other inherently dangerous occupations, the reality is that workplace accidents happen across the board. In fact, according to a recent article by the Associated Press, workplace accidents occurring on TV and movie sets are fairly common and grossly unreported.

The article discusses several accidents that occurred on TV and movie sets across the country in recent years, including a 2014 accident that claimed the life of a young woman working as a camera assistant here in Georgia. Evidently, the woman was working on the set of “Midnight Rider,” a bio-pic about the rock-n-roll legend Gregg Allman, when the set supervisor failed to obtain the necessary permits to film on active train tracks. As a result, the county did not let the railroad company know about the project, and a train came crashing through the set, killing the young woman.

This is hardly the only workplace accident in the TV and movie industry. In fact, OSHA estimates that over the past two decades, 43 people have died on various sets, and another 150 have suffered lifelong injuries, such as amputation. However, the article notes that several well-known accidents – such as the shooting death of Brandon Lee during the filming of the movie “The Crow” – have been left out of the statistics.

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Earlier this year, a 61-year-old hotel worker froze to death after she became trapped in a walk-in freezer while on the job. According to one national news source, the Atlanta woman walked into the freezer toward the end of her shift and never walked out. Her husband called her manager the next day after she didn’t come home, and her body was discovered in the walk-in freezer.

After the woman’s death, the hotel performed a number of tests on the freezer door and reported that it was functioning properly. However, a follow-up inspection conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indicated that the release button inside the freezer malfunctioned. The report explains that on the day of the test, an employee entered the walk-in freezer and was unable to exit without the assistance of another employee. The medical examiner listed the woman’s cause of death as undetermined, with the added notation “found in freezer, malfunctioning exit release button.”

Since this incident, OSHA has issued a $12,500 fine and cited the employer for a “serious violation.” OSHA recommended that the hotel come up with a voluntary plan to prevent similar accidents in the future, with the understanding that there will be subsequent on-site inspections.

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It’s not uncommon in Georgia workers’ compensation claims for employers or insurers to dispute causation in order to avoid having to pay the claim. This is especially true in cases where the worker was seriously injured and may require temporary total disability payments or some type of permanent disability payments, partial or total.

Proving causation does not mean you have to show that you never before suffered injury to the body part in question. Rather, it means that those prior injuries or conditions are not the primary cause of the ailments of your claim. If a work-related accident or incident exacerbates a previous injury, it can be considered causative, particularly if the worker was able to do his or her job just fine prior to that.

In the recent case of Nichols v. Fairway Bldg. Prods., the question of causation was a main focus. The claimant sought workers’ compensation for an on-the-job back injury that required several surgeries. He asserted that he was totally and permanently disabled and his doctor claimed, with a reasonable amount of medical certainty, that the cause was his work injury, a forklift accident. Continue reading

Georgia used to be one of 16 states that had enacted some sort of exemption to workers’ compensation coverage for farm or agricultural laborers. Now, it’s one of just 15 states, after the New Mexico Supreme Court handed down a ruling striking workers’ compensation exemptions for farms and ranches as unconstitutional. 

The case is Rodriguez v. Brand West Dairy, and the decision casts uncertainty as to the future of the law in Georgia and other states. To be clear: This decision won’t immediately impact Georgia workers. Because each state is in charge of handling its own workers’ compensation system, a conflict between states on an issue like this isn’t likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Nonetheless, a ruling of this nature by a sister court is one that could open the door for a similar challenge here in Georgia.

According to court records, the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Act, since its inception in 1917 through its most recent update in 2015, has never required employers to provide workers’ compensation to farm and ranch laborers. Three farm and ranch laborer workers appealed denial of their workers’ compensation injury claims on grounds state statute is illegal under the state’s equal protection clause. The statute specifies that in order to be legal, any discriminatory classifications in economic or social legislation have to be founded on some real difference of situation or condition that reasonably justifies a different rule for the class that suffers the discrimination.  Continue reading

Georgia work injuries were reported following an explosion at a Newnan aluminum company. So powerful was the blast, witnesses say, it rocked buildings up to a mile away in this suburb some 35 miles south of Atlanta. 

Five workers were hospitalized, two at the Atlanta Medical Center and three at a local hospital, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. One of those workers remained in critical condition days after the accident.

The president of Bonnell Aluminum issued a statement extending his wishes for the workers’ speedy recoveries. The plant had to be evacuated and closed while the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) responded alongside local officials and company administrators to ascertain the cause of the blast.  Continue reading

DeKalb County officials are investigating the death of a 36-year-old U.S. Postal worker who was killed when a large tree fell onto his truck as he was delivering mail. Authorities say the worker had been driving past a grove of tall pine trees when one suddenly uprooted and fell on top of the worker’s truck, causing immediate death.

A spokesman for the county, which owned the property where the pine tree had been rooted, called the incident an “unfortunate, tragic accident.” He attributed it to a number of factors all happening at once, including wind and a build-up of ice. Trees owned by the county are checked every six months, but those located in areas near playgrounds or other gathering spots are checked every month, he said.

Although it’s unclear whether this worker had a spouse or children, any dependents he did have would be entitled to worker’s compensation death benefits. As a federal employee, his benefits are handled a bit differently than those who work for private companies in Georgia.  Continue reading

At the core of the workers’ compensation system in America is the compromise between the employer and the injured employee: That the employer won’t face civil litigation, for which it would potentially be liable for big payouts for pain and suffering and other damages, while the worker doesn’t have to be fault-free and the process to get benefits is supposed to be faster. 

Based on these principles, there are a number of presumptions that are made that are supposed to tilt the scales slightly in favor of the worker. Among those is that workers’ compensation acts are supposed to be liberally construed to accomplish the purpose of providing injured workers benefits. So doubts are supposed to be resolved in favor of the worker.

This does not mean the worker will necessarily have benefits handed to them or that he or she won’t have to fight for them.  Continue reading

Workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for employees injured on-the-job. That rule is applicable only insofar as employers and workers’ compensation insurance companies are concerned. When a work injury is due in full or in part to the negligent actions of a third party, the worker may pursue a personal injury lawsuit against that party – in addition to collecting workers’ compensation benefits.

However, it is crucial for employees to understand that if they do pursue a third party action, their employer and/or insurance company may be entitled to something called “subrogration.” In this scenario, it would mean the entity that paid workers’ compensation benefits would have a right to reimbursement from the third-party litigation damage award. That hold that an employer has on the third-party damage award is called a “subrogration lien.” The statute under which this is permitted is O.C.G.A. 34-9-11.1.

This does not mean a worker will get nothing by pursuing third-party action. The reality is, personal injury lawsuits tend to glean higher damage awards than workers’ compensation, and they also reimburse for losses such as pain and suffering – which workers’ compensation does not. It is imperative that injured workers in this situation employ an experienced attorney because failure to do so could mean a loss of critical benefits. Continue reading