Aug 27, 2015

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

The 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 Hansford McDaniel LLC at (770) 922-3660 or
contact us through our website today.

Photo credit: penywise, MorgueFile