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    What to Know About Workers’ Compensation Law in Georgia

    Posted on - Tuesday, June 1, 2021 under Workers Compensation

    All company employees are protected by workers’ compensation if they are hurt while doing their job. To skirt liability companies commonly raise two defenses: (1) the injured worker was an independent contractor and (2) the injury occurred outside the course and scope of employment. Fortunately, the team at Parian Injury Law, LLC is here to help. We could explain everything you should know about workers’ compensation law in Georgia and help you obtain all the damages you deserve. 

    Functions of Workers’ Compensation in Georgia

    One of the most important things to know about workers’ compensation in Georgia are the functions that it serves. Workers’ comp benefits do three essential things for an employee:

    1. Pays a reduced lost wages to employees out of work due to the injury,
    2. Pays for all medical treatment and care related to the injury at work,
    3. Pays a lump sum settlement for (1) a permanent impairment; (2) a lost body part; or (3) a lengthy and expensive medical treatment related to the work injury.

    By law, injured employees can be compensated even if the injury was due to the employee’s own carelessness.  Consequently, since the employee does not have to prove liability, employees cannot recover for pain and suffering. Employers may choose what doctor you see. Some employers have a “panel” or list of doctors they have selected and approved. If you find your doctor to be hyper-conservative, your attorney may file a motion with the Court/Workers’ Compensation Board requesting to change your doctor. A drug test is required to file a claim. Workers’ compensation benefits are likely not available for employees that test positive for illegal drugs. 

    What is the Difference Between an Independent Contractor and an Employee?

    In some cases, independent contractors are considered employees, even if you were told that you are an independent contractor.  Companies often classify employees as independent contractors to avoid payroll taxes and workers’ compensation liability.  By law, if your boss tells you what, when, and how to do your job you are probably an employee, even if you get a 1099 and sign an independent contractor agreement.  The facts of each case are different, call an attorney to help you evaluate your status.

    What Does Outside the Scope of Employment Mean?

    It is important to know that workers’ compensation laws in Georgia only cover employees during the scope of their employment. Therefore, when you get injured at work, you are covered. However, when you are injured while transitioning to work or driving, it is not as cut and dry. For example, if you are:

    • Walking to from the office parking lot to the front door you are likely covered by workers’ compensation.
    • Driving with a co-worker to lunch, you are not covered.
    • Driving to pick up your boss’ dry cleaning, you are covered.
    • Driving home while talking to a client on a cell phone, is a challenge that an experienced lawyer may overcome. 

    Damages in a Workers’ Comp Claim

    Your company must pay injured employees two-thirds of your average weekly pay, and must not exceed the maximum of $500.00 weekly. Since the maximum rate changes every few years, confirm the current rate with your attorney. It is important to note that injured employees cannot claim pain and suffering damages. Unlike car wreck cases, workers’ compensation pays reduced wages and medical bills and to account for long-term permanent injuries. By law, employers do not have to pay you wages if you miss fewer than seven consecutive days of work. If a company fires you after getting injured on the job, the company must continue paying the benefits until you are no longer injured.

    How Long Do I Have to File My Workers’ Compensation Claim?

    In most situations, your WC-14 form must be filed within one year from either the date of the accident or date of last medical treatment under workers’ compensation. This deadline can change based on the specific facts of your case thus, it is critical that you seek legal advice.  For example, with catastrophic injury and paralysis cases, an experienced trial lawyer is essential to identify and hire the experts necessary to prosecute your claim. In large mill firms you may never speak with an actual attorney, do not compromise. If you have no idea what is happening with your case and are not getting return phone calls, find new counsel. Our firm could work with you personally to ensure that every possible benefit is available to you when you are injured at work in Georgia.

    Georgia Workers’ Compensation Appellate Case Law Analysis

    Even when employers strive to create a safe working environment, employees are still exposed to some risk of injury. Due to the ever-present possibility of injury and the omnipresence of workplace accident litigation, every state has laws that aim to adequately compensate employees for injuries incurred in the course of employment. Although these laws intend to create efficient recovery for workplace injuries, injured employees often find the process cumbersome, and the recovery limited. Consequently, injured workers will attempt to impose liability on an entity instead of their employer to avoid limited recovery through mandatory workers’ compensation channels. Recently, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled on this issue in Schaff v. Snapping Shoals Electric Membership Corporation.

    In Schaff the plaintiff was injured while working on a utility pole that was owned, installed, and maintained by the defendant, Snapping Shoals Electric Membership Corporation (“Shoals”). Although the plaintiff was on the job at the time of his injury, he was not employed by Shoals. Instead, the plaintiff was employed as a field auditor for Charter Communications, who had an agreement to run cable connections on Shoals’ utility poles. Prior to climbing the utility pole, the plaintiff took several precautions including a visual safety inspection of both the pole and ladder, as well as, use of a safety harness. Nevertheless, once the plaintiff scaled the pole, a live wire attached to the pole snapped, hit him, and caused him to fall from the ladder. The plaintiff suffered a concussion and fractured his back as a result of the fall. The plaintiff sued Shoals, for negligence, negligence per se, and loss of consortium. After discovery, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.  The trial court held that the plaintiff failed to establish the elements necessary for both his negligence and negligence per se claim, and the loss of consortium claim also failed because it was derived from of the negligence claim.

    The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s determination, on appeal. To succeed on a negligence claim, a plaintiff must establish all four essential elements: duty, breach, causation (direct and proximate), and harm. See, e.g., Lawson v. Entech Enterprises, Inc., 294 Ga. App. 305, 307 (1) (669 SE2d 211) (2008). In its decision, the Georgia Court of Appeals focused on the duty element. Utility companies, like the defendant in this action, are “charged with the duty of exercising ordinary care in the construction and maintenance of its wires, poles, transformers, and equipment.” McGarity v. Hart Elec. Membership Corp., 307 Ga. App. 739, 745 (2) (706 SE2d 676) (2011).

    In this case, the equipment that caused the injury, the guy wire, was not owned by the Shoals. Rather, the guy wire was installed, owned, and inspected by Charter Communications, the plaintiff’s employer. Because the defendant didn’t owe the plaintiff a duty of care with respect to the instrumentality that caused the injury, the claim of negligence failed as a matter of law.

    The court then turned to the plaintiff’s negligence per se claim. O.C.G.A. § 51-1-6, states, “when the law requires a person to perform an act for the benefit of another or to refrain from doing an act which may injure another, although no cause of action is given in express terms, the injured party may recover for the breach of such legal duty if he suffers damage thereby.” Therefore, to succeed on a negligence per se claim requires a plaintiff to demonstrate that the defendant violated a specific statute, regulation, or ordinance. In the plaintiff’s complaint, he asserted that Shoals “[violated] its own agreement, industry, and reasonable inspection, supervision, and maintenance standards” but failed to identify any violation of a specific statute, regulation, or ordinance. Based on his lack of specificity, the Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff’s negligence per se claim also failed as a matter of law.

    It’s reasonable to question why the plaintiff even brought these claims against Shoals who did not install or own the faulty guy wire. In fact, the plaintiff’s employer-owned and installed the guy wire. Thus, a negligence suit against the employer directly for negligence would likely be barred by workers’ compensation law provisions which prohibit employees from bringing negligence suits against an employer. In some cases, workers’ compensation payments are a sufficient recovery for their injuries, however, full recovery for many is achieved by asserting claims that are not precluded by the workers’ compensation laws in Georgia. Thus, because workers’ compensation laws are complex, especially when navigating around the limitations of workers’ compensation, injured workers should strongly consider obtaining legal advice before trying to recover for their injuries.  The Metro Atlanta and West Georgia negligence attorneys at Parian Injury Law have considerable experience with litigating on the job injuries in Georgia and are prepared to answer your questions. Contact us for a free case consultation.