Link Between Physical and Psychological Injuries Necessary Under Georgia Workers’ Compensation Law

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Which types of injuries are considered compensable in a Georgiaworkers’ compensation case? The short answer is “most, but, unfortunately, not all.” For example, if there is an explosion at work, and a worker is killed, the worker’s family will probably be entitled to death benefits on the deceased employee’s behalf. If a second worker is physically injured in the explosion, but he or she is not killed, that person may be entitled to benefits for medical expenses and time off from work due to injuries suffered in the accident.

But what if, instead of being physically injured, the second worker claims a psychological injury – not from what happened to him, per se, but from knowing that a co-worker later died as a result of the accident?

Facts of the Case

In a recent decision by the State Board of Workers’ Compensation, the employee was working for the employer in July 2014, when he and a co-worker were exposed to toxic chemical fumes during the course and scope of their employment. The co-worker, whom the employee was training at the time, passed away in November 2014 due to his exposure to the toxic fumes.

The employee had some minor physical injuries (dermatitis, blisters, and an intermittent rash), but he was released to return to work on regular duty. After developing nightmares and flashbacks of the accident, the worker filed an application for workers’ compensation benefits. In his claim, the employee averred that he developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and other psychological issues as a result of the accident.

The Decision of the Board of Workers’ Compensation

Although the administrative law judge (ALJ) found that the worker had demonstrated, through convincing medical evidence, that he was currently suffering from PTSD stemming from the July 2014 accident and subsequent death of the co-worker who was involved in the same chemical exposure incident, the judge denied benefits to the worker because his psychological injuries were not precipitated by his physical injury. The physical injuries were, at most, “transient” and non-disabling; since what happened to the employee in the physical sense did not contribute to his psychic trauma, the ALJ found that Georgia law required the denial of his claim. The full board later affirmed.

Although the ALJ acknowledged that an injustice was rendered to the employee under the circumstances, he stated that he was bound by prior case law from the Georgia courts. In quoting a dissenting judge’s opinion in an earlier case, the ALJ suggested, “[i]t is time for the courts of Georgia to join the majority of courts that have freed the right to recover for a legitimate mental injury from arbitrary requirement that [such] injury be accompanied by a physical injury.” Perhaps, in time, this will happen so that further injustices such as the one in this case are prevented.

Have You Been Hurt at Work?

If you or a loved one has been hurt at work in an industrial or manufacturing accident, you need to talk to an experienced Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible. Timeliness is very important when it comes to filing a claim for benefits under Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws, so it is crucial to get the legal advice you need sooner rather than later. The Law Offices of T. Andrew Miller, LLC, can help. Just call us at 678-894-4758 to schedule a free consultation regarding your or your loved one’s work-related injury.

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