Appellate Division Rules Deceased Worker’s Estate May Collect Disability Benefits in Georgia Workers’ Compensation Case

file0001829935472 morguefile penywise.jpgThe Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation Appellate Division has ruled that an employee’s subsequent unrelated death does not preclude his or her estate from collecting any permanent partial disability (“PPD”) benefits that were due at the time. In the case, a worker apparently injured both of his eyes in a Georgia workplace accident. According to the employee, he was hurt when metal debris flew off of a piece of equipment, knocked his safety glasses off, and lodged in his eyes in April 2007.

Following the incident, the worker promptly reported the accident to his employer. The man’s employer accepted compensability and agreed to pay him six weeks of salary or temporary total disability benefits. After that, the man returned to work but continued to experience eye problems for which he sought medical treatment.

In September 2007, the employer closed permanently, and the injured worker found alternative employment. Later, the worker sought PPD benefits from his former employer based on medical testimony provided by his treating doctor. The worker also asked that his former employer be assessed a late payment penalty and pay his legal costs. In August 2011, the worker was unfortunately killed in an unrelated accident.

At a 2014 hearing, the employer argued that the worker’s claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The employer also claimed the man was not entitled to receive benefits because another doctor testified he was not permanently disabled. In addition, the employer maintained that the man’s workers’ compensation claim was extinguished by O.C.G.A. § 34-9-265(a) when he died.

After reviewing the evidence offered at the hearing, an administrative law judge ruled that the worker’s PPD benefits claim was timely filed. The judge also dismissed the employer’s argument that the worker’s claim was extinguished when he passed away. Instead, the judge ruled that the man’s estate was entitled to pursue any benefits that were due before he died.

Next, the administrative judge found that the employee was entitled to receive PPD benefits for 33 weeks and assessed a late payment penalty against the employer. Despite this, the judge stated the worker was not entitled to recover legal expenses because the case was not defended on unreasonable grounds. According to the judge, the employer acted reasonably based on the conflicting medical testimony offered by the parties.

On appeal, the Appellate Division of the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation ruled that the administrative judge who presided over the hearing was in the best position to determine whether the evidence offered in the case was credible. Since the administrative law judge’s decision was supported by the record, the Appellate Division adopted the judge’s opinion and affirmed the award.

If you suffered a severe eye or other injury at a Georgia workplace, you should discuss your rights with a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible. To schedule a confidential consultation with a caring Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyer, do not hesitate to call the Law Offices of Nathaniel F. Hansford at (770) 922-3660 or contact us through our website today.

Photo credit: penywise, MorgueFile

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