Serious work injuries resulting in “catastrophic” designation

The Georgia workers’ compensation system recognizes the unfortunate fact that some work injuries result in employees never returning back to work.  These serious occupational accidents preclude employees from not only working for their previous employer, but for any employer.  These work injuries are designated as “catastrophic” under the Georgia workers’ compensation law.  See, OCGA 34-9-200.1. This designation allows the injured employee to receive lifetime medical treatment, as well as lifetime indemnity (weekly income) benefits.  Generally, income benefits are limited to either 350 or 400 weeks from the date of accident. In Georgia, a catastrophic injury often defined as (1) a severe spinal cord injury involving paralysis of an arm, leg, or trunk; (2) an amputation of an arm, hand, foot, or leg involving the effective loss of use of the appendage; (3) a severe brain or closed head injury where there is severe sensory or motor disturbances, as well as disturbances in communication, cerebral functioning or consciousness, or neurological disorders; (4) second or third degree burns over 25% of the employee’s body or third degree burns to 5 percent or more to the face or hands; (5) total or industrial blindness; or (6) any other injury of a nature and severity that prevents the injured worker from being able to perform his or her prior work and any work available in substantial numbers within the national economy for which the employee is otherwise qualified. If the injury has not been designated as “catastrophic” and the authorized treating physician has released the employee to return to work with restrictions, there is a rebuttable presumption during a period not to exceed...

Workers’ Compensation Legislative Update

The Georgia legislative session ended last week and Governor Deal has the power to execute the new laws into effect. This year, the legislature drafted and passed some new laws impacting the workers’ compensation landscape.  These new laws go into effect on July 1, 2012. The Ramos Law Firm has been monitoring the legislation and has summarized them for your convenience. Initially, the legislature has specifically exempted “individuals who are parties to a franchise agreement as set out by the Federal Trade Commission franchise disclosure rule 16” from  workers’ compensation.  See, OCGA §34-9-1(2); HB 548. HB 971 modified OCGA §34-9-15 by allowing the parties to require settlement language which prorates the lump sum settlement over the life expectancy of the injured worker.  The legislature also modified the requirements for occupational “loss of hearing” injuries.  See, OCGA §34-9-264; HB 637 and 971. The text of HB 971 can be found here.  Two proposed changes that did not make the final cut in HB 971 are as follows: A modification to OCGA §34-9-136 by mandating the insurance company to provide the employer or its agent statistical data for determining the employer’s experience modification factor within 30 days. The most discussed modification was found in OCGA §34-9-207. This change seemed to be a reaction to the McRae v. Arby’s Restaurant Group case. In that case, the court contemplated the dynamics between the attorney and doctor interaction in workers’ compensation cases. The proposed additional language was to read: “[n]othing contained in this Code section shall preclude an employer, its insurer, or a third party administrator, from communicating orally, in writing, or electronically, directly with...