Appeals Court Rules ALJ Misapplied the Law Related to Georgia Man’s Catastrophic Workers’ Compensation Injury

file0001281599089 morguefile earl53.jpgIn Barnes v. Roseburg Forest Products Co., a Georgia man’s leg was amputated below the knee in a 1993 workplace accident. At the time, the man’s employer paid him temporary total disability (“TTD”) benefits due to his catastrophic injury. About six months later, the man received a prosthetic leg and returned to work performing different job duties. Upon returning to work, the man’s TTD payments were replaced with permanent partial disability benefits (“PPD”). The worker exhausted his PPD payments in May 1998.

In 2006, another company purchased the man’s employer. The man continued working in his light duty position despite his ongoing pain until his job was eliminated in 2008. After that, the employee continued on in a new position that apparently exacerbated his prior leg injury. In late 2009, the man was ultimately terminated due to downsizing. After the man inquired about receiving additional workers’ compensation benefits, the employer’s insurer informed him that he was no longer eligible.

In 2012, the man filed a notice of claim alleging he was a catastrophically injured employee beginning on the date of his 1993 workplace accident. As such, the man argued he was entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits beginning on the date of his termination. The man’s former employer argued that he was no longer an employee and that the statute of limitations enumerated in OCGA § 34-9-104 had run.

Next, the man filed an additional claim with his former employer arguing he endured a second accident on the date his employment was terminated pursuant to OCGA § 34-9-82. Following a hearing on the issue, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) ruled the man’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations. Both the State Board of Workers’ Compensation and a Superior Court then affirmed the judge’s decision. After that, the man filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals of Georgia.

On appeal, the worker argued the two-year statute of limitations for a change in condition did not apply to his case. Additionally, the man asserted that his claim was not barred by the one-year statute of limitations for fictional new accident claims. According to the man, OCGA § 34-9-261 allows a workers’ compensation claimant who suffered a catastrophic injury to seek reinstatement of benefits in response to a change in condition under OCGA § 34-9-104(a)(1), regardless of when the last benefit was paid.

The appellate court agreed and stated the language of the law indicated the Georgia Legislature intended to treat catastrophically injured employees differently from other injured workers. The court added that a catastrophically injured worker may receive workers’ compensation benefits indefinitely. Additionally, the Georgia court stated the man’s claim was not barred by the one-year statute of limitations included in OCGA § 34-9-82(a) because the worker filed his new claim within one year of receiving remedial treatment for his leg injury. Since the ALJ committed error in interpreting the law, the Court of Appeals of Georgia reversed the lower court’s decision affirming the ALJ’s order and remanded the case.

If you sustained a catastrophic or other injury at work in Atlanta, you should discuss your rights with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible. To schedule a confidential consultation with a dedicated Georgia workers’ compensation attorney today, call the Law Offices of Nathaniel F. Hansford at (770) 922-3660 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Barnes v. Roseburg Forest Products Co., Ga: Court of Appeals 2015

Photo credit: earl53, MorgueFile