The Georgia Supreme Court recently decided a case where a family’s dog died as a result of being given the wrong medication while being boarded. The family sought to recover the for the life of the deceased pet. The Georgia Supreme Court decided that the family could recover the animal’s fair market value plus expenses incurred trying to save the animal’s life.
I have had many pets in my life. Our family currently has a chihuahua. I am sure that many of you, like me, feel that it would be impossible to place a value on a member of your family. I expect your dog, cat, or other pet is worth more to you that the “fair market value” you would receive if you decided to list your pet for sale.
Unfortunately, judges and juries are often called upon to place values on things that are difficult or impossible to value. What is a family pet really worth? What is the loss of our home worth? What is a person’s pain worth?
These are very difficult questions to answer. Sometimes, these decision have been made for us by our elected representatives in the legislature.
The value of our lives, bodies, and pain in Georgia’s workers’ compensation system
Reading about the recent Georgia Supreme Court decision got me thinking about an area of the law I deal with on a daily basis – Georgia’s workers’ compensation system. Georgia’s workers’ compensation system places a value on just about everything. The most obvious place where it assigns a value is to each and every part of the body. Any permanent impairment to a person’s body has a set value. This amount is paid as permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits.
Our elected representatives in the Georgia legislature have decided that the loss of your arm or your leg is worth 225 weeks of PPD benefits. The loss of your hand is worth 160 weeks and your foot is worth 135 weeks. Your fingers are worth 25 to 60 weeks (depending on which finger) and your toes are worth 20 to 30 weeks (depending on which toe).
I know that I would find it very difficult to place a limited value on an arm, leg, hand, foot, or any other part of the body. However, Georgia’s workers’ compensation system and many others do just that. In Georgia, you would receive somewhere between $6,750 and $74,250 for the loss of your entire foot (135 weeks of PPD benefits at $50 to $550 per week depending on how much you were making before you got hurt).
Another area where Georgia’s workers’ compensation system assigns value is pain. Georgia workers’ compensation law gives no value to pain because an injured worker cannot recover for pain and suffering in a workers’ compensation claim.
Georgia workers’ compensation law also places a value on an individual’s life when the individual dies as a result of a work injury. The value of an individual’s life depends on whether the individual has “dependents” or not.
- If the individual has dependents, the dependents can receive dependency benefits for limited amounts of time and payment of up to $7500 for the reasonable expenses of burial.
- If the sole dependent is the individual’s spouse, the dependency benefits are capped at a maximum of $220,000.
- If the individual has no dependents, the payment of up to $7500 for the reasonable expenses of burial is the only compensation paid (plus a $10,000 payment to the State Board of Workers’ Compensation)
It is very difficult to place a monetary value on our lives or our pet’s lives. But it is necessary. If no worth was assigned, people who are harmed would not be able to recover for their losses.
We can debate what the correct value should be. If you read the recent Georgia Supreme Court decision, you will see the Supreme Court justices going through some of that debate with regard to the value of a pet.
It is my personal belief that Georgia’s workers’ compensation system places too low of a value on injured workers’ bodies, lives, and pain. But our elected representatives make the ultimate decision about what benefits the workers’ compensation system will pay.
Jason Perkins is an attorney who specializes in representing injured workers. He regularly blogs about Georgia’s workers’ compensation system and issues that are important to injured workers and their families.