Mar 11, 2013

Georgia House of Representatives Passes Bill to Reform Workers’ Compensation

The Georgia House of Representatives passed House Bill 154, a workers’ compensation reform bill by a landslide of 165 to 0 votes. Because workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy a hurt employee has against his or her employer, the workers’ compensation reform bill may have significant impacts throughout the state.

The bill grew out of joint efforts by both the Georgia workers’ compensation board and an advisory council. The latter included medical, legal, and business world representatives.

The measure is a mixed bag for injured workers, who may notice that the most significant reforms in the bill fall squarely in favor of business interests. The bill now awaits a Senate committee hearing.

The bill shortens the time in which mileage payments to claimants must be made by 15 days. (This payment was previously due 30 days from receipt of the claim).

When a workers’ comp claim receives an advance prior to settlement, the interest rate on the advance has been reduced from 7 to 5 percent. According to State Rep. Mark Hamilton, this change is because the current interest rate climate has declined. However, the impact on system costs will probably be small.

Here are some of the changes proposed in HB 154 that could improve the situation of injured workers in Georgia:

  • The maximum weekly benefit has been increased from $500 to $525 per week during 2013.
  • These are relatively small reforms. However, some of the changes that have a poor or less beneficial impact on injured workers are bigger:
  • The bill places a new 400-week cap on medical benefits for non-catastrophic injuries.
  • A claimant worker must now show a good faith effort to work an appropriate job for a 15-day trial period within physician-directed limitations–if he or she doesn’t, the employer may suspend benefits. During the 15-day trial period, the worker must either work for an 8-hour day or for a scheduled workday, whichever is greater.

The cap of 400 weeks for non-catastrophic injuries will probably be the biggest change or reform and will bring Georgia in line with the state of Montana. Georgia law currently provides medical benefits for workers’ compensation injuries as long as they are “reasonably required and appear likely to affect a cure, give relief, or restore the employee to suitable employment.”

Catastrophic injuries that are not capped include serious bodily harm such as the loss of sight or paralysis. If this bill passes as it is poised to do, it may mean that more seriously injured workers will have to emphasize the permanent or disabling nature of their claims in order to avoid the cap.

The impact of the newly imposed 15-day trial period remains to be seen, but there is potential for employer abuse.

In its analysis of Bill 154, NCCI (National Council on Compensation Insurance, Inc.) estimates that many of the changes that are positive for workers have minimal impacts. For example, the minor increase of $25.00 in weekly benefits may affect 53% of Georgia’s injured workers. It will still be one of America’s lowest benefit limits. The mileage reimbursement is similarly negligible; it will affect the timing of the payment, but not the amount of reimbursement.

If you were injured while at work, these changes may apply to you. Do not hesitate to call and discuss your workers’ compensation claim with a skilled and knowledgeable Georgia workers’ compensation attorneys at Hansford McDaniel – Workers’ Compensation Attorneys. We can assess your situation and advise you on how best to proceed.