Articles Posted in On-the-job Car Accidents

Generally speaking, Georgia workers’ compensation claimants may be entitled to benefits if they are injured while working at an out-of-town job site. However, in a recent case a court rejected a claimant’s request for benefits after he was hit by a drunk driver while working out-of-town.

The claimant had been working as a laborer on a roofing job in another town. The claimant and other employees working on the project were staying at the hotel during the week. Every day, the claimant and the other employees would leave around 6 or 7 am in company trucks and return around 6 or 7 pm. The workers were paid from the time they left the hotel until the time they arrived back. After they arrived back at the hotel, the workers were free to do what they wanted. The workers were allowed to use a company truck to run errands if they obtained permission, but were not allowed to take a company truck to a bar.

The night of the injury, the claimant was walking from a bar across the street to his hotel in the early morning when he was hit by a drunk driver. He suffered serious injuries, including having to have his right leg, a finger, and a toe amputated. He applied for workers’ compensation benefits, claiming that his injuries were the result of a hazard created by the requirement that he travel to the roofing project. The administrative law judge granted him benefits, but the Workers Compensation Board denied the claim.

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Car accidents often involve complex issues of liability involving different insurance policies. When one or more injured individuals is working at the time of a car accident, workers’ compensation laws may also come into play and could limit an individual’s recovery through other policies, as was the situation in a recent Georgia workers’ compensation case.

In that case, the plaintiff was in a car accident and suffered substantial injuries. Two cars were involved in the accident, and the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the other vehicle’s driver. The other driver was underinsured, and the other driver’s insurance paid him only $25,000 in a settlement. The plaintiff was working at the time of the accident and also received workers’ compensation benefits of $197,966.55 for his injuries. Yet the plaintiff’s workers’ compensation provided him with a weekly amount that was less than his weekly income at the time of the accident, and he therefore accumulated $183,022.38 in lost wages. The plaintiff also did not receive compensation for pain and suffering or for future medical expenses.

However, the plaintiff’s insurance provided uninsured motorist (UM) insurance coverage to the plaintiff, and he sought additional compensation through his UM coverage. His policy provided a total limit of $100,000 in UM benefits. The policy also had a provision that stated that the limit would be reduced by any money paid under the workers’ compensation law.

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Many Georgia workers’ compensation cases are appealed by one of the parties, meaning that those decisions can be reversed on appeal. Therefore, understanding the standard of review in an appeal is key in any case. In a recent Georgia case, one employee’s favorable decision was reversed on appeal because the reviewing court applied the wrong standard of review.

In that case, the employee was rear-ended by another car while she was working as a driver, and she injured her back and neck as a result. The employee underwent medical treatments and requested approval for spinal fusion surgery under workers’ compensation. Her employer sent her to be independently evaluated by another doctor. The doctor believed that she was not permanently impaired and that she was able to do regular activities and work without restriction. The parties agreed to forego a hearing and have the administrative law judge (ALJ) decide whether her surgery was reasonable and necessary, based on the briefs and the evidence submitted. The ALJ found the surgery was not reasonable or necessary and denied the employee’s request for benefits.

The employee appealed to the Board of Workers’ Compensation, which found that the ALJ was in the best position to determine credibility and adopted the ALJ’s decision. The case was then appealed to the superior court. The superior court determined the independent doctor was less credible and reversed the decision in favor of the employee. The employer appealed the case again to the court of appeals.

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Earlier this month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a workers’ compensation case that required the court to interpret the sole-remedy provision contained in the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act. In the case, Saxon v. Starr Indemnity and Liability Company, the court held that although the plaintiff’s employer was required to carry workers’ compensation insurance but failed to do so, a workers’ compensation claim was still the plaintiff’s sole remedy. Thus, the court dismissed his personal injury claim against the employer.

The Facts of the Case

Saxon’s employer was in the ice cream and freezer business. On the day in question, Saxon was riding as a passenger in a delivery truck when the driver, a co-worker, rear-ended another vehicle. Saxon’s co-worker was cited for following too closely.

Saxon’s employer was required under Georgia law to obtain workers’ compensation insurance. However, for whatever reason, his employer had failed to obtain this coverage. Perhaps thinking a workers’ compensation claim would be fruitless because his employer lacked coverage, Saxon did not file a workers’ compensation claim but instead filed a personal injury claim against his employer, seeking compensation for his injuries.

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Owners of large farms often rely on the contracted labor of migrant workers to help them fulfill their staffing needs around the busy harvest time. However, since these farms so rarely need this volume of labor, farm owners usually lack the infrastructure necessary to provide transportation for these workers. As a result, farm owners will often contract under-the-table transportation companies to get workers from their homes to the farm.

According to a recent Georgia news source, the system that many farm owners use to get temporary workers to their farms is dangerous and too often underinsured. The article discusses a November 2015 accident in which six farm workers were killed and another seven injured when the bus they were riding in struck a concrete bridge support, ripping the roof off the bus. The company that operated the bus had not registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, meaning that it was not legally permitted to transport workers. Furthermore, the driver of the bus did not even have a commercial driver’s license.

To make matters worse, the company’s workers’ compensation policy did not cover the bus ride. As a result, since the transportation company carried just one-fifth of the required insurance on the bus, the families of the deceased were left with a much smaller total sum of money than necessary to cover their expenses and losses.

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In personal injury litigation, when a lawsuit is settled, that’s it. There is no going back to ask the same defendant for more money – even if your injuries are worse or lasted longer than you expected.

But it’s different with workers’ compensation claims, which can be re-opened when an employee disability has increased or recurred.

Often the first thing we need to explore is whether the case was settled via a stipulation and award or a compromise and release. If it was a stipulation and award, claims can often be reopened. However, with a compromise and release, employers are usually released from any future claims for the same incident. The only exception, usually, is if the settlement was somehow procured by fraud. Continue reading

A woman whose husband was killed on-the-job in Atlanta while working for the city is seeking to challenge Georgia’s sovereign immunity and worker’s compensation exclusive remedy provisions.

When her husband was killed, he was riding in the cab of a city-owned garbage truck, driven by his co-worker. Problem was, his co-worker was drunk. So drunk, in fact, his blood-alcohol level was three times over the 0.08 limit. (In commercial vehicles, the legal limit is 0.02, although the city has a zero tolerance policy.) Officials later found a bottle of vodka in the grass. Decedent had no alcohol in his system.

Her husband was thrown from the vehicle and died on impact. She too was a city employee. Her supervisors were the first to inform her of his passing.

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Many people drive to and from work, but some are required to drive in the course and scope of employment.

Generally, those who drive during the work day for work purposes may be covered by workers’ compensation in the event of a serious crash. Meanwhile, those who are simply “coming and going” – i.e., commuting to and from work – are usually not covered.

The recent case of Seabright Ins. Co. v. Lopez highlights arguments that can arise between an employer/insurer and an injured employee/surviving family members in workers’ compensation claims following an auto accident.

According to court records, employee had worked for the oil and gas processing company eight years at the time of the accident. While he lived with his wife in one Texas city, he almost never actually worked in that city. He was assigned to work at various remote locations, and during these jobs, he usually made his own living arrangement, typically staying at a local motel. He was paid hourly, plus given a stipend for food and lodging when he stayed out-of-town. He was also given a company vehicle to get to and from different job locations, but he wasn’t paid for his travel time to and from job sites.
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When it comes to workers’ compensation law, states have varying applications with regard to disputed issues. In general, though, what must be proven is the injury or illness was caused or compounded by work-related duties or functions, and that the individual seeking to collect has legal standing to do so.

A recent case before the South Carolina Court of Appeals posed some interesting issues with regard to these elements, but the claimant still prevailed.

In Thomas v. 5 Star Transportation, claimant was the widow of a worker who died in a traffic accident while driving a tour bus for his employer. But the case was complicated by two central facts:

  • The worker had suffered a brain aneurysm around the time of his death, though it could not definitively be proven it happened before the crash.
  • The woman who sought spousal benefits was not in fact married to decedent, as his divorce to his previous was not final at the time of their wedding – a fact she didn’t learn until after he died.

Yet, claimant was able to succeed in securing workers’ compensation death benefits, but it didn’t come without a vigorous fight by the employer.
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State supreme court justices in Kentucky reversed three lower courts in finding worker injured in a vehicle accident while crossing the street to access a fast-food restaurant adjacent to her office was not entitled to collect workers’ compensation for her injuries.The court determined the worker was not acting in the course and scope of employment because she undertook the route in “in order to seek personal comfort.” In so doing, the court found, she exposed herself to a hazard that was not only totally removed form the typical day-to-day coming-and-going activity, but it was also illegal per state law (she was jaywalking) and thus impliedly barred by the company.

The ruling in US Bank Home Mortgage v. Schrecker underscores once again how difficult it can be to secure workers’ compensation payments when a worker leaves the traditional office setting. Work-related car accidents may be compensable, but one must prove he or she was acting in the course or scope of employment.
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