Jul 30, 2015

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

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