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 an employee’s medical provider without affirmative consent of the employee where the purpose is to assess, plan, implement, coordinate, monitor, or evaluate options and healthcare services reasonably related to the condition for which such employee claims compensation.”

This change appeared to give the Employer and the Insurance companies the power to discuss an injured workers’ treatment plan without any input or consent from the patient.

Furthermore, the legislature modified OCGA §34-9-221. In the past, this provision provided for a 20 percent “strict liability” penalty for employers and insurers when they fail to pay the settlement within 20 days after being approved by the State Board. Under the new OCGA §34-9-221(f), the legislature inserted the possibility of allowing the employers and insurers off the hook if they can show that nonpayment was “due to conditions beyond the control of the employer”.

This year’s legislature also clarified OCGA §34-9-226 with regards to guardian, conservatorship, and incompetent settlements.

For more information, please contact the Ramos Law Firm.