New Workers’ Compensation Bill before the 2013 Georgia House of Representatives

The 20113 Georgia Legislature is considering amending the Workers’ Compensation Act.  With regards to medical treatment, the proposed bill takes aim at limiting coverage to the injured workers.  Currently, if you are injured on the job, you are entitled to lifetime medical treatment as it relates to that occupational injury (so long as your claim remains open and unsettled).  Also, the desired medical treatment must continue to relate or be caused by the original accident.  Under the proposed new law, the medical treatment will expire in about 7.6 years after the date of injury unless the case is deemed to be “catastrophic.”  Therefore, if you suffer an injury that requires a knee replacement and you have to get the hardware replaced every 10 years, you will be responsible for the replacement and continued care after the 7.6 year mark.  The proposed bill also changes the return to work provisions under O.C.G.A. §34-9-240.  Currently, if the employee (who was previously out of work) is properly offered a suitable light duty job, he is required to attempt the job.  If he or she is unable to do that job, the Employer/Insurer was required to immediately restart benefits.  This will change under the proposed bill.   Under the new bill, the injured employee must attempt the job for eight (8) cumulative hours or one scheduled workday, (whichever is greater) before the benefits can be restarted.  For example, let’s assume a forklift driver returns to work and attempts the light duty job.  In the first hour, it becomes clear that he is unable to do the job.  He must continue to labor for another 7 hours...

Do I have to pay taxes on my workers’ compensation “income” benefits?

Will the insurance company give me a 1099 or W-2?  As we prepare for tax season, many of my clients have asked if they should report their workers’ compensation benefits and settlement proceeds as “income.”   The answer to that is generally “no.”  Any amounts received as workers’ compensation for an injury at work are fully tax exempt.  This exemption also applies to survivors (commonly called “dependents”) of persons who have lost their lives at work.  See, IRS Code 104. Interestingly, this exemption generally does not apply to retirement plan benefits received based on age or length of services despite the predominate cause of taking the retirement was the work injury.  In some cases, a global settlement of your workers’ compensation case may include consideration for the resolution of other claims outside of workers’ compensation.  It is important to carefully assign the appropriate value of those other claims as they may NOT be tax exempt as those claims are outside the workers’ compensation...

What do I have in common with RG3? The workers’ compensation doctor released me back to work when I was not ready.

Not unlike a lot of injured workers’, Robert Griffin, III (affectionately known as “RG3”) , was released to return back to work injuring his right knee in a December 2012 game.  While the team doctor denied the star quarterback was released or “cleared” to return to work, it was obvious that RG3 returned on the field against Seattle.  In that Seattle Wild-Card game, RG3’s injured knee buckled, and he is now suspected to be out for a part of, if not the entire, 2013 season. Was the company or “team” doctor right?  This begs the question as to whether the company doctor had the best interest of his patient in mind,  or rather the employer and a profitable post-season.  In my humble opinion, this medical clearance or release to return to work was short-sided by the company doctor and he disregarded the employee’s well being.  It has come to light that RG3 now has a torn LCL and ACL.  It is important to note that this 22 year old now has torn his ACL twice in less than 4 years. In my workers’ compensation practice, I often see injured workers released to their “normal” or “full duty” jobs much too fast.  In Georgia, workers’ compensation physicians compete to be on pre-approved list (called the “panel of physicians”) which is specific to the injured worker’s company.  This list or panel is generally comprised of six (6) physicians, and the injured employee may be limited to this list.  Consequently, the ethical line of loyalty may be blurred.  In other words, does the injured patient or the company take precedence? In many...