Georgia Appeals Court Denies Employer’s Motion to Enforce Subrogation Lien in Workers’ Compensation Case

file0002086049306 morguefile dhannte.jpgIn Best Buy Co. v. McKinney, a Georgia employee apparently fell off a forklift while working at an electronics store. Due to his fall, the worker reportedly suffered a traumatic brain injury and broke several bones in his face. As a result of his workplace injury, the employee collected workers’ compensation benefits from his employer. Following numerous surgical procedures, the worker also filed a strict liability and negligence case against the company that manufactured the forklift in DeKalb County, Georgia.

Next, the worker’s employer intervened in the tort case pursuant to OCGA § 34-9-11.1 (b). About one year later, the worker settled his case against the company that produced the purportedly defective forklift. After that, the electronics store filed a motion to enforce its workers’ compensation subrogation lien against the hurt employee’s third-party settlement. Following an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the injured worker was fully compensated for all of his workplace accident harm by the forklift manufacturer, the trial court denied the store’s motion. The employer then appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeals of Georgia.

On appeal, the man’s employer argued the trial court committed error when it found that the store failed to prove the injured worker was fully compensated for both his economic and noneconomic losses when the employee settled his case with the forklift manufacturer. According to the appellate court, the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act allows an employer to enforce a subrogation lien only when a hurt worker was “fully and completely compensated” for all of his or her resulting losses. The court continued by stating such a determination is made only after comparing the amount of workers’ compensation benefits received, the amount of any settlement collected from a third party, and a hurt employee’s total economic and noneconomic losses that were caused by the workplace injury.

The Court of Appeals said the burden of demonstrating that a worker was fully compensated for his or her entire loss is on the employer. After examining the evidence offered by the store, the appellate court ruled that the lower court properly denied the employer’s request to enforce its lien against the third-party settlement proceeds recovered by the worker.

The court then dismissed the store’s claim that the trial court relied on erroneous law when it ruled the employer failed to meet its burden of demonstrating the worker was fully compensated for his workplace accident when he received the third-party settlement. Finally, the Court of Appeals of Georgia affirmed the trial court’s order denying the employer’s motion to enforce a subrogation lien against the injured employee’s settlement proceeds.

The Georgia workers’ compensation system can be confusing to navigate on your own. If you or someone you love suffered a work injury in Atlanta, you should discuss your rights with a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney as soon as you are able. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a hardworking Fulton County workers’ compensation lawyer, do not hesitate to call the Law Offices of Nathaniel F. Hansford at (770) 922-3660 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Best Buy Co. v. McKinney, Ga: Court of Appeals 2015

Photo credit: dhannte, MorgueFile