I have discussed the harshness of the O.C.G.A. 34-9-104 change in condition statute of limitations in previous articles on this blog. The harshness of workers compensation deadlines has harmed yet another injured worker.
The Georgia Supreme Court recently decided the case of Roseburg Forest Products Company v. Barnes. Mr. Barnes’ leg was amputated below the knee as a result of a work-related injury. His injury was designated as catastrophic.
Despite this devastating injury, Mr. Barnes returned to work for his employer, Georgia Pacific, with a prosthetic leg. He continued working for his employer for over 15 years. He even continued working when the plant was sold to another company. This continued work worsened his injury and he was eventually laid off in 2009.
How Mr. Barnes’ case got to the Georgia Supreme Court
Because he was unable to work as a result of his work related injury, Mr. Barnes requested a hearing to prove his entitlement to temporary total disability benefits. However, he was not even given the opportunity to present his case because a judge held that it had been too long since he had received benefits for being out of work. That judge held that the law prevented Mr. Barnes from ever getting additional wage loss benefits for his injury.
Mr. Barnes appealed this decision. The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the judge’s decision and held that Mr. Barnes could present his case for additional temporary total disability benefits. The workers’ compensation insurance company appealed that decision to the Georgia Supreme Court.
The Georgia Supreme Court’s decision and what it means for Mr. Barnes and other injured workers
Unfortunately for Mr. Barnes and other injured workers, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that the initial judge in Mr. Barnes’ case interpreted the law correctly. They decided that O.C.G.A. 34-9-104 (commonly known as the “change in condition” statute of limitations) prevented from getting any wage loss benefits even if his injury kept him from doing any work at all.
The Georgia Supreme Court’s decision means that a catastrophically injured worker who goes back to work and works more than two years without getting wage loss benefits cannot ever get those benefits again. This decision greatly discourages injured workers from returning to work. Injured workers will risk the ability to get future wage loss benefits when they do return to work.
I strongly believe that it is unfair to punish Mr. Barnes for working. Both the employer and workers’ compensation insurance company knew that Mr. Barnes had a severe injury that was always going to limit his ability to work. They were still paying for medical treatment. Why should the employer get to avoid responsibility for future wage loss benefits if Mr. Barnes has a catastrophic workers’ compensation injury that prevents him from working?
Unfortunately, the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision will be the law in Georgia unless the Georgia legislature changes O.C.G.A. 34-9-104. The effects of this decision can be devastating to injured workers like Mr. Barnes.
All injured workers need to know the different deadlines that apply to Georgia workers’ compensation claims. Failing to know these deadlines often results in the loss of some or all benefits you should receive.
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.