How workers' compensation works in Georgia

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Workers' compensation is a form of insurance designed to provide coverage for employees who sustain injuries at work. Most employers are required to have this insurance in place. In Georgia, the workers' compensation system covers over 250,000 employers and more than 3.8 million employees.

There are specific rules governing eligibility for workers' compensation benefits, as outlined in Georgia Code Title 34, Chapter 9 and the rules and regulations set forth by the State Board of Workers' Compensation.

The workers' compensation rules can be perplexing, seemingly arbitrary, and sometimes harsh. A minor error could lead to a significant loss in benefits. There are specific guidelines regarding notifying your employer about an injury, determining the treating doctor, the process for changing doctors, the duration of weekly benefit payments, scheduling a hearing before a workers' compensation judge, and more. It is crucial to recognize the distinction between being eligible for workers' compensation benefits and actually receiving them.

When you experience a workplace injury, your workers' compensation benefits are not guaranteed. The responsibility falls on you to prove your entitlement to these benefits. In this process, the insurance company is considered your "adversary" and has no obligation to treat you fairly. Workers' compensation insurance companies aim to minimize their payouts and will use their expertise to navigate the rules in their favor, potentially cutting off your benefits prematurely. The system may not seem fair, but understanding the rules and your rights is essential to securing the benefits you deserve.

The History and Purpose of Georgia's Workers' Compensation System

Georgia's workers' compensation system was developed in the early twentieth century in response to the alarming number of industrial and factory accidents occurring during that time. Workers were frequently getting injured or disabled, leaving them unable to support their families and often penniless. In some cases, injured workers could demonstrate that their injuries were a result of their employer's negligence. In these relatively rare instances, employees could sue their employers for negligence and recover damages. However, large lawsuits sometimes had the unintended consequence of putting employers out of business.

In 1920, Georgia adopted the Workers' Compensation Act to address these issues. This legislation was part of a broader movement known as the "Grand Bargain," which aimed to create a more equitable and efficient system for handling workplace injuries. The Grand Bargain was a compromise between employers and employees that originated from the British Compensation Act of 1897. Under this agreement, employers would provide workers with compensation for injuries sustained on the job, regardless of fault, in exchange for workers giving up their right to sue employers for negligence.

Workers' compensation, similar to other social insurance programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance, relies on contributions from employers to provide support for workers in times of need. Interestingly, workers' compensation was the first social insurance program to be implemented in the United States. It was adopted by the first states in the early 1910s, during a time when federal-level programs were not yet considered legally viable. The majority of states followed suit, with 43 states enacting workers' compensation laws by 1920 and the last one by 1948. The absence of a federal framework sets it apart from other social insurance programs.

Over the past century, workers' compensation has played a crucial role in safeguarding injured and ill workers and their families by providing medical care and, when necessary, wage replacement benefits. Additionally, the program covers funeral expenses and offers survivor benefits in cases where injuries result in death. Workers' compensation has evolved to not only protect those injured at work but also to include some workers who develop illnesses due to workplace factors. However, the coverage of "occupational diseases" has been less consistent and clear compared to injuries sustained on the job.

The Georgia Workers' Compensation Act serves two primary purposes. First, it ensures that employees can promptly secure benefits following workplace injuries, without the need to prove fault or negligence. Second, it protects employers from lawsuits when a worker is injured, providing a more predictable and stable business environment.

The workers' compensation system in Georgia is a "no-fault" system, meaning that employees are entitled to benefits regardless of who might be at fault for the accident. This approach ensures that injured workers receive the necessary support and compensation, even if the accident resulted from their own careless mistake. By streamlining the process for handling workplace injuries, the Workers' Compensation Act has played a crucial role in promoting both worker welfare and business stability in Georgia.

Employer Requirements for Reporting Injuries

In Georgia, employers are legally required to report workplace injuries and file a Form WC-1, also known as the "Employer's First Report of Injury or Occupational Disease", with the State Boar of Workers Compensation. This form must be submitted to the Georgia State Board of Workers' Compensation within a specified time frame after the employer becomes aware of the injury.

Failing to report a workplace injury or discouraging employees from reporting claims is considered unlawful. Employers who neglect their duty to report injuries or discourage workers from filing claims may face penalties, fines, or other legal consequences. It is essential for employers to adhere to the reporting requirements to ensure that injured workers receive the benefits and support they need during their recovery process. This helps protect both the employees' well-being and the employer's reputation, while maintaining a safe and productive work environment.

The four types of workers comp' benefits

When it comes to workplace injuries, many employees are unaware of their rights to compensation. If you've been injured on the job, it's important to understand the four primary types of benefits you may be entitled to receive under workers' compensation laws.

  • Lost Income Benefits: If your authorized doctor takes you out of work for at least 7 consecutive days, you may be entitled to a weekly check for lost income. This benefit is designed to replace a portion of your wages while you're unable to work due to your injury.
  • Medical Benefits: Under workers' compensation laws, you are entitled to 100 percent coverage for all medical care related to your injury with no co-pay and no deductible. This includes doctor's visits, hospitalization, physical therapy, prescription medication, and more.
  • Permanent Impairment Benefits: If your workplace injury results in a permanent impairment to your body, you may be entitled to additional compensation. The amount of compensation you receive will depend on the severity and permanency of your impairment.
  • Death Benefits: In the unfortunate event that a workplace injury results in the death of an employee, the employee's family may be entitled to receive death benefits. These benefits are designed to provide financial support to the deceased employee's dependents.

It's important to note that the workers' compensation process can be complex, and not all claims are approved. In some cases, employers or insurance companies may deny a claim, leaving injured workers without the compensation they deserve. You may also lose your right to receive benefits if you wait too long to file a claim. If you've been injured on the job, it's important to consult with an experienced workers' compensation attorney who can guide you through the process and fight for your rights.

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Medical Benefits

Check out our medical benefits guide. Flex your rights to make sure you are getting the best medical treatment workers' compensation can provide.

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Lost Income Benefits

One of the most frustrating aspects of a work injury is the loss of your ability to earn a living. Click here to learn about your rights to draw lost income benefits.

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Permenant Disability Benefits

Learn about how an "impairment rating" entitles you to start drawing weekly checks for permanent partial disability.

The three possibilites after you report the work accident.

After you notify your employer of the accident, they are required to report the injury to their insurance company. The insurance company will investigate the claim. The insurance company can either accept your claim, accept your claim as "medical only", or deny your claim entirely.

  1. Accepted Cases: In an accepted case, the insurance company agrees to pay your workers' compensation benefits without requiring a hearing. These benefits typically include coverage for medical expenses and compensation for lost income. However, it's crucial to understand that just because your case has been accepted doesn't guarantee you are receiving all of the benefits you may be entitled to. Insurance companies might still deny or dispute certain aspects of a claim for a range of reasons. For example they may deny certain medical treatments. Consequently, even in an accepted case, you may not be receiving the full scope of benefits you deserve. Remember, an accepted case is not the end of the road; it's crucial to stay vigilant and proactive to make sure you're receiving the support you need to recover and move forward.
  2. Medical Only Cases: In a "medical only" case, the insurance company has accepted that you suffered a workplace injury, but is not paying you for any lost time from work. They are only paying medical benefits. This means that you can receive medical treatment for your injury, but you may not be compensated for any time missed from work. Under Georgia law, workers' compensation benefits for lost wages are only available if you miss more than seven consecutive days of work due to your injury.
  3. Denied or "Controverted" Cases: In a denied or "controverted" case, the employer or insurance company is denying that you had a compensable workplace injury. This means that they are disputing that your injury was caused by your work or that your work aggravated a pre-existing condition. If your claim is denied or controverted, you have the right to request a hearing before the Georgia State Board of Workers' Compensation to contest the decision. However, navigating the hearing process can be complex, and it's important to have the support of an experienced workers' compensation attorney who can help you prepare your case and protect your rights.

If you've been injured on the job in Georgia and your workers' compensation claim has been denied or controverted, it's important to understand your rights and the legal process for disputing the decision. Under Georgia workers' compensation law, the insurance company has up to 21 days to either accept or deny a workers' compensation claim. If they do not deny or accept the claim within 21 days, the claim is deemed "accepted" under the law. However, if the insurance company accepts the claim and starts paying benefits, they have up to 81 days to file a "controvert" (a formal dispute) with the Georgia State Board of Workers' Compensation. If they do not file a controvert within 81 days, they lose the right to contest the claim.

It's important to note that an insurance company can still deny a claim after 81 days if they never paid the injured worker any benefits, or if they discover "newly discovered evidence" that justifies the denial. If your workers' compensation claim has been denied or controverted, it's important to seek the advice of an experienced workers' compensation attorney who can help you navigate the legal process and protect your rights.

In addition to the 81-day rule for controverting workers' compensation claims in Georgia, there is another exception that allows insurance companies to deny a claim at any time. If the insurance company does not pay any lost wages benefits to the injured worker, the clock for the 81-day rule never starts. This means that the insurance company can controvert the claim at any time, even years after the initial injury occurred.

Even a denied case can be very valuable. Even very good cases are denied all the time. You just need to hire a workers compensation lawyer to request a hearing to have your benefits started. But don't wait. There are many deadlines in workers compensation law.

Defining a Work Accident in Georgia: Key Concepts and Challenges

Workers' compensation claims often involve a significant amount of litigation concerning whether an injury is work-related or not. This is primarily because both employees and employers have a lot at stake in these cases. Injured workers need to prove that their injury is work-related to receive compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and other benefits, while employers and their insurance companies want to minimize payouts and avoid fraudulent claims. The complexity of workers' compensation laws and the fact that many injuries can have multiple contributing factors further complicates the process.

In Georgia, a work accident is defined by the specific criteria of "arising out of" and "in the course of" employment. To be considered a work accident, the injury must have a clear connection to the job and occur while the employee is engaged in work-related activities. "Arising out of" employment means that the injury is caused by a factor or risk directly associated with the job, such as slipping on a wet floor at the workplace. "In the course of employment" refers to the injury happening during normal working hours or while performing tasks related to the job, such as running a work-related errand or being injured while entering or leaving the workplace. These criteria help distinguish work accidents from non-work-related incidents, ensuring that workers' compensation benefits are provided only to those who have genuinely suffered injuries due to their employment.

Determining whether an accident is work-related can be a complex and challenging process, even for insurance companies and experienced lawyers. Many injuries can have multiple contributing factors, some of which may be work-related while others may not. Additionally, the specific circumstances of each case can be unique, making it difficult to apply general legal principles consistently.

Employers and their insurance companies may have a financial incentive to deny that an accident is work-related, as accepting the claim would lead to increased costs in the form of workers' compensation benefits. In some cases, employers may act in bad faith by denying claims without a legitimate basis, simply to minimize their expenses. This can leave injured workers struggling to receive the benefits they deserve and may require them to pursue litigation to prove that their injury is, in fact, work-related. It is essential for injured employees to consult with an experienced workers' compensation attorney who can help navigate these complexities and fight for their rights in the face of potential bad faith denials by employers or insurance companies.

Delay and Denial of Medical Treatment: A Common Problem

In workers' compensation cases, injured employees may often face delays or denials when seeking approval for necessary medical treatments. Insurance companies may use various tactics to postpone or reject treatment requests, leaving injured workers in a difficult position, struggling to receive the care they need for recovery.

In Georgia, the Workers' Compensation Board has established a process called the WC-PMT (Workers' Compensation - Payment of Medical Treatment) to help address this issue. The WC-PMT process enables injured workers, their attorneys, or medical providers to request expedited review of a denied or delayed treatment request. This process ensures that disputes regarding medical treatment are resolved more efficiently, allowing injured workers to receive the necessary care in a timely manner.

To initiate the WC-PMT process, a Form WC-PMT must be completed and submitted to the State Board of Workers' Compensation. The form requires details about the requested treatment, the reason for denial or delay, and any relevant medical documentation. Once submitted, the Board will review the request and issue a decision within a specified timeframe, typically within 15 business days.

If you are experiencing delays or denials of medical treatment in your workers' compensation case, it's crucial to seek assistance from an experienced workers' compensation attorney. They can help guide you through the WC-PMT process, ensuring that your rights are protected, and you receive the medical care you need to recover from your work-related injury.

When should you consider hiring an Atlanta workers' comp attorney?

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Workers' compensation can often resemble a high-stakes game of chess. When you file a workers' compensation claim, you're seeking insurance benefits that could potentially cost the insurance company hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. You may be entitled to receive lost wage benefits, medical benefits, and compensation for permanent impairment.

A workers' comp lawyer's primary role is to help you secure benefits and prevent their denial. If any benefits are denied in your case, an attorney can assist you in requesting a hearing with the Georgia State Board of Workers' Compensation.

Even denied cases can have significant value. According to a study on workers' compensation, 67 percent of denied claims are converted to paid claims within a year. This statistic reveals that, on average, more than two out of three denied claims will eventually pay out! In an ideal world, employers would never deny a valid claim. So why do insurance companies deny so many legitimate workers' comp claims?

A considerable number of injured workers may never file a claim or hire a lawyer, believing it's not worth the trouble to challenge the denial. However, a back injury with a herniated disc can easily result in over $100,000 in medical bills alone. If an injured worker never files a claim after the initial denial, all that money becomes profit for the insurance company's shareholders. Insurance companies hope that you'll give up on your workers' compensation claim, as they want to deny as many cases as possible.

Georgia law provides penalties for insurance companies that deny cases without good cause. An insurance company can be ordered to pay late penalties and attorney's fees for their improper actions. If you're facing a denied claim, seeking assistance from an experienced workers' compensation attorney can be crucial in fighting for the benefits you deserve.

Here some common reasons it may be a good idea to consult an attorney in your workers' compensation case:

  1. Your medical benefits are delayed or denied

    Delay of benefits is a huge deal in workers compensation. Most doctors will not treat you unless they get "authorization" from the insurance company. Pre-authorization is not actually required by law, but the doctors want to make sure they will get paid before providing treatment. Denial of medical treatment is very common. We help our clients get their treatment approved every single day.

  2. Your treating doctor releases you to work too quickly

    If your doctor sends you back to work without restrictions you will generally not be entitled to workers' comp income benefits for missed time. This will be a problem if you still have physical issues related to your accident. If this happens, we can help you to switch doctors or get a second opinion.

  3. You have a pre-existing condition

    Denials for pre-existing conditions are very common. This might be one of the most common reasons medical treatment gets unfairly denied. The insurance company and their lawyers will often contact your treating doctor and try to get them to say that your problems are not the result of the work accident, but rather a pre-existing condition.

    But, pre-existing conditions are actually covered by workers' compensation. It is your burden to show that the accident at work aggravated your pre-existing condition (i.e. made it worse). Meeting this burden often means getting a written opinion from your treating doctor. An attorney will help you to do this.

  4. You are not sure what doctor you need to see

    Workers' compensation has a complicated system for picking doctors. You should never let the insurance company pick the doctor. You actually have a right to choose a doctor from a list (or choose any doctor you want if there is no list).

    The doctor you select is probably the single most important decision in your case. This doctor will affect your rights to lost income benefits, future treatment, money for permanent impairment, etc. You should get a free consultation with an attorney before you select the doctor.

  5. Your employer claims that you are not covered by workers' compensation.

    If this happens don't panic. Even a "denied" can be very valuable. Unfortunately, the laws about who is covered can be insanely complicated. An experienced workers comp lawyer will help determine if you have a valid claim.

    In our experience, the insurance company will frequently deny a claim even if they think there is only a 10 percent chance they can win. Why would the insurance company do this? It is really just about money. Many people give up on a good claim and never hire a lawyer.

    Remember that the insurance company is your adversary and they do not have to treat you fairly. You have a right to request a hearing in front of a workers' compensation judge who will decide if you are covered by workers compensation insurance.

  6. You have been asked to attend an independent medical examination

    Even if your claim was initially accepted, the insurance company might try to have you re-evaluated by a "company" doctor. Often, the independent medical examination (called an IME) is a precursor to terminating, reducing, or eliminating your benefits.

    An IME is not actually "independent". This doctor is chosen by the insurance company. This doctor is paid up to $1200 to create a report about your accident. The IME doctor might only meet with you for 10 minutes. You are not considered a "patient" of this doctor, therefore the rules of medical ethics do not apply to this doctor's report. He also knows that he will likely never see you again after the first visit (but will continue to get business from the insurance company). He is basically an expert witness for the insurance company. The report might say that the treatment recommended by your doctor is not necessary, that you are exaggerating symptoms, that your injury is not work-related, etc.

    Usually you will be sent to an IME when the insurance company is looking for a reason to deny your benefits. If you get a notice for an IME, contact a workers' comp attorney.

  7. You want to settle your workers compensation case.

    Getting the maximum amount for your workers compensation case can be tough. Click here to learn how an attorney can help maximize your recovery

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