Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

operating roomWhen someone is hurt at work, his or her employer (or its workers’ compensation insurance carrier) must provide certain medical benefits to the employee.

However, this is not a blank check for the injured worker to have any and all medical treatment that he or she believes would help alleviate the problems caused by the work accident. Instead, there are certain rules and procedures that must be followed in order for there to be an obligation upon the employer or its insurer to pay for a particular treatment. As with other issues in Georgia workers’ compensation cases, the employee has the burden of proof in convincing the workers’ compensation board that he or she is entitled to the relief sought.

Facts and Issues

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Generally in the law, a defendant “takes the plaintiff as he finds him,” even if the plaintiff had some pre-existing malady that made him or her more susceptible to injury. This is usually true in workers’ compensation as well, in which the law holds an employer liable for work-related incidents or injuries that aggravate a pre-existing condition.

Of course, employers frequently question whether an injury truly “aggravated” the condition or whether the pre-existing condition itself is the sole cause of the employee’s current complaint. Unless there is some connection between the disabling condition and the on-the-job accident, the employer is not responsible for paying benefits to the claimant. The same is true in situations in which the worker’s ailment reverts back to the baseline condition.

Facts of the Case

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Those who are hurt on the job may not be able to return to their regular duties, either temporarily or permanently. This can affect the amount of benefits to which an injured employee in an Atlanta workers’ compensation case is entitled, so it is an important distinction.

From a monetary standpoint, the employer (or its insurance company) typically pays out a much smaller amount in benefits when an employee is able to go back to his or her regular job following a work injury. Thus, there is a substantial financial incentive to try to get an injured employee back on the job as soon as possible.

However, the employee may or may not be physically capable of performing the tasks that he or she did prior to the accident. Each situation is unique, and the issue of whether the employee made a meaningful return to pre-injury employment must be decided on the specific facts of each case. In addition, there is a specific process that must be followed when an employer wants to bring an injured employee back to modified duty work.

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construction workerIn handling a wide variety of Atlanta workers’ compensation cases, we hear many of the same questions over and over. One of those questions is, “Will I be fired if I report a work injury?”

The answer can be complicated. In Georgia, employees can be terminated legally for virtually any reason. Can you be fired for reporting a work injury? Yes, it happens all the time. Will you be fired if you report an on the job injury? Well, it depends. Different employers and managers have different policies on this issue that may or may not comply with State and Federal law. The better question is….what can be done to enforce the terminated employee’s rights given the circumstances of the firing?

Can I Be Legally Fired?

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Since we represent so many injured employees in Atlanta workers’ compensation cases, we are used to answering certain questions like, “Who will pay my medical bills? How much temporary disability can I draw? What will happen if I can’t go back to work due to my injury?”

Another question that we hear a lot is, “Is it legal for me to say my injury was not work-related? My boss told me to say this, and I don’t know what to do.” The answer to this question is a very resounding, “NO!” Not only do you compromise your right to receive the compensation to which you are entitled, but also you could be implicated for criminal fraud.

Georgia Workers’ Compensation Law Requires That a Report Be Made

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If you take a cursory look at the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation website, you might believe that filing a claim for workers’ compensation is a relatively pain-free process that involves only the completion of a simple form.

While it is true that an employee must complete and file a WC-14 form with the Board (with copies to the employer and its workers’ compensation insurance carrier), this is only the beginning of what can be a very long and often highly contentious process.

Unfortunately, obtaining the workers’ compensation benefits one is due can be a difficult endeavor, so much so that the nonprofit organization Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) conducted an investigation into the problems many, including Georgians, have getting the help they need after a work injury. The recent study found that nearly one out of five Georgians injured at work who experienced more than seven days lost time reported “‘big problems’ getting services they or their primary provider wanted.” Among those, more than half of the responses gave the reason as “employer or insurer did not want the care provided” as the reason. The research also concluded that Georgia had one of the lowest return to work rates in the country.

You have been hurt at work, and your employer refuses to start your disability payments or to help you get the medical care that you need. You have no money to hire an Atlanta workers’ shutterstock_188002490-300x200compensation lawyer. What should you do?

You should call an attorney and schedule an appointment as soon as possible. You do not have to pay a lawyer upfront to get your workers’ compensation case started. In fact, under Georgia law, no attorney’s fees can be paid in an on-the-job injury case until the State Board of Workers’ Compensation approves the fee.

Usually, the fee is paid as a percentage of the benefits ultimately awarded to the employee, but in cases in which the employee is forced to hire counsel because the employer has refused to comply with the law without reasonable grounds to do so, attorney’s fees may be “added on” to the award, such that the employer – rather than the employee – pays the fees. A recent case illustrates the point.

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In a Georgia workers’ compensation claim, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that his or her injury is compensable. This requires that the employee show, by a preponderance of the evidence, each and every one of the essential elements of the case: that he or she suffered an accidental injury, that the injury arose out of and in the course of employment with the defendant employer, and that the disability for which the employee seeks compensation resulted from the injury. In addition, the employee must prove that he or she gave timely notice of the work-related injury.

A recent case illustrates what can happen when an employee has a pre-existing, non-work-related medical condition. Her case was further compromised by a lack of timely notice.

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bucket truckWhen a product defect or failure causes a personal injury or wrongful death, the accident victim (or his or her family, in the event of a fatality) may be able to recover money damages via a product liability lawsuit. In Georgia, the general rule is that a product liability claim must be filed within two years of the date of the accident or within 10 years of the date that the product was first sold. (Of course, it is always best to talk to an experienced personal injury attorney about your particular situation, since different or additional deadlines may apply.)

Product liability lawsuits typically involve multiple theories of liability, including defective design, manufacturing defects, or failures to warn. In some cases, strict product liability may be a viable legal theory.

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Under Georgia law, most employers are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance if they have at least three employees. Generally, this is true regardless of whether those three workers are considered full-time, part-time, or seasonal.

There are only a few exceptions to this general requirement. Farm laborers, domestic servants, and federal government employees are among those who are not required to be covered by workers’ compensation insurance. Unfortunately, not everyone follows the law.

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