Articles Posted in Georgia Workers’ Compensation

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Earlier this month, a New Jersey man was killed when he was struck by a piece of construction equipment while on a New York job-site. According to one local news report covering the tragic accident, at around 4:20 in the afternoon a load fell off a crane at the construction site and struck the worker. Immediately after the accident, the worker was alert, but shortly after that he started experiencing pain and having difficulty breathing. Within the hour, he was dead.

CraneThe construction company that employed the worker has told reporters that it will fully cooperate with any government investigation into what caused the fatal construction accident. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation. The representative from OSHA told reporters that the investigation may take as long as six months to complete.

Georgia Construction Accidents

The construction industry is one of the most dangerous in Georgia. Whether it be the heavy equipment, the towering heights, or the long hours resulting in worker fatigue, construction workers face many risks every day. According to the most recent numbers, Georgians suffer approximately 4,500 workplace accidents each year. Of these, a significant portion occur in the construction industry.

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The Georgia workers’ compensation program is designed to provide temporary benefits to injured workers while they recover from an on-the-job injury. In theory, the program works well for both employees – who do not have to about proving who was at fault for their injury – and employers – who are able to limit their own costs by purchasing a workers’ compensation insurance policy.

BleachersMost Georgia employers who have three or more employees are required to obtain a workers’ compensation policy. However, some employers are able to self-insure if they obtain prior approval. Many school districts across the state have chosen to self-insure rather than obtain coverage from an outside insurance company. Self-insured employers are essentially able to handle workers’ compensation claims as they see fit. A recent news article discusses the benefits and drawbacks to this self-insurance system for Georgia school district employees who are injured on the job.

Weekly Benefits Versus Lump-Sum Disbursement

The article details the account of a 50-year-old employee of DeKalb School District who was injured when a student pushed her down a set of bleachers almost two decades ago. After her accident, the woman suffered a serious injury to her spine and has since required a spinal implant. She still suffers constant back pain and only has the use of her left leg.

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Last year, a 20-year-old woman was killed in an Alabama manufacturing plant when she attempted to fix a machine that had stopped working. According to news reports at the time, the woman was working on a large crane with three other employees. When the crane stopped working properly, the woman called maintenance but received no response.

FactoryThe woman and three other co-workers tried to get the machine working again. The woman entered the cage that contained the machine, and while she was inside the cage, the machine started running again. She sustained critical injuries and was taken to the hospital, where she died the next morning.

The plant where the accident occurred manufactures car parts for Kia and Hyundai. According to a recent news source, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted a six-month investigation into the accident, concluding that the accident could have been prevented had the appropriate precautions been taken by the employer.

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Earlier this month, the Georgia House of Representatives just passed Georgia House Bill 152, which would presume workers’ compensation coverage for firefighters diagnosed with certain types of cancer. According to an industry news source discussing the Georgia bill and other similar bills in other states, the House Bill will now move on to the Georgia Senate. A similar bill passed both houses last year before Georgia Governor Nathaniel Deal vetoed it over concerns that the research supporting the link between cancer and firefighters’ exposure to harmful chemicals was too speculative.

FiremanThis article is the most recent evidence of the movement across the nation for states to increase firefighters’ workers’ compensation benefits to include certain types of cancer. Supporters of GA Bill 152 and other similar bills point to the host of synthetic materials that are used in the construction of modern-day homes, which when burned, release harmful chemicals that can cause cancer and other serious illnesses.

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Over the past few years, the discussion over chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has reached a boiling point in the NFL. The seriousness of CTE cannot be overestimated, with symptoms that include depression, memory loss, anxiety, and progressive dementia, among others. Indeed, many players afflicted with CTE have committed suicide as a result of the mental health issues they face. Making matters more difficult, CTE cannot readily be diagnosed while a player is alive; however, doctors can somewhat confidently diagnose CTE in some cases, based on observed symptoms.

Football GameLast year, an agreement was reached between the NFL and several thousand players, whereby the NFL would pay out up to $1 billion in claims to former players as well as the families of players posthumously diagnosed with CTE. However, the NFL players’ Collective Bargaining Agreement does not list CTE as a work-related disease, and it provides no coverage for the disease. This means that, up to this point, compensation is only available through personal injury lawsuits, such as the one discussed above.

According to an industry news source, however, a group of NFL players has asked a court to read a term into their Collective Bargaining Agreement to cover CTE as a work-related disease. If the players are able to get their agreement with the NFL to cover CTE, players suffering from the symptoms of CTE and the families of players who have been posthumously diagnosed with CTE will be able to obtain benefits without needing to establish that the NFL was negligent or at fault in any way. This would create an easier means of recovery for many players and their families.

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Earlier this year, Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a bill that would have helped Georgia firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer obtain much-needed workers’ compensation benefits. House Bill 216 passed both Georgia houses of congress, only to be vetoed by the Governor before the bill could become law.

FirefighterThe bill would have established a rebuttable presumption that certain types of cancer found in firefighters were “occupational diseases” under the state’s workers’ compensation statute. The presumption would only arise if the firefighter were able to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that their work caused the cancer. If the firefighter was able to meet that initial threshold, the burden would shift to the insurer to prove that the cancer was not work-related. As the law stands now, cancer is categorized as an “ordinary disease of life,” and those unfortunate enough to encounter a cancer diagnosis are unlikely to receive benefits.

Governor Deal’s rationale for vetoing the bill was that it was too broad because it failed to establish a timeline or to limit the types of cancer covered. He also stated that the rate of cancer among Georgia firefighters was not “abundantly demonstrated.”

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Workplace injuries are a common occurrence across Georgia. In fact, with a total of over 103,000 workplace injuries last year alone, Georgia ranks higher than average in workplace accidents across the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These injuries occur across a broad range of jobs.

Bridge Under ConstructionWhile some jobs are commonly known to be dangerous, such as construction and factory work, others come as a bit of a surprise. A recent article in the Atlanta Patch outlines a newly released report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, discussing the most dangerous jobs in Georgia.

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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.

Video CameraThe 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.

ThermostatAfter 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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Lawmakers in Oklahoma passed legislation three years ago that gave companies the ability to “opt out” of the state’s workers’ compensation system and write their own plans. It was yet another example of the gradual whittling away of injured workers’ rights across the country. Large companies were emboldened by this success and began lobbying heavily for similar measures in other states, including Georgia. courthouse

Then came the stories about how unfair this opt-out system was for workers. Suddenly, employers were responsible for setting the terms of which injuries they would cover and which they would not. Workers were held to varying standards about when they had to report their workplace injuries. Some were given a month, others just a day. A worker at one company might be paid a certain amount for a finger amputation, while another might receive far less. Many workers were having to rely on taxpayer-funded programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, to cover the cost of their work-related injuries.

Now, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has ended the opt-out program in that state. In Vasquez v. Dillard’s, the court declared Oklahoma’s version of opt-out unconstitutional. The court reasoned these opt-out plans treated one group of workers differently from all others in the state. The primary example given was the amount of time workers had to report claims at this retail store:  just one day. Normally, workers in the state have 30 days.

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