Many people suffer workers’ compensation eye injuries each year. In fact, over 2000 people injure their eyes at work every day. While many of these injuries are minor, some people go partially or completely blind as a result of work-related eye injuries. Understanding the special rules that apply to these types of injuries is important.
Catastrophic designation for eye injuries
Eye injuries are one of six specific types of injuries that can qualify for a catastrophic designation.
The Georgia law that discusses catastrophic designation is O.C.G.A. 34-9-200.1. Specifically, O.C.G.A. 34-9-200.1(g)(5) says that “Total or industrial blindness” qualifies an injured worker for a catastrophic designation.
Unfortunately, the Georgia workers’ compensation law does not specifically define what “total blindness” or “industrial blindness” mean. We do not know if industrial blindness means blindness in one eye or a certain standard of limited vision. This means that an individual with significantly limited vision may qualify for a catastrophic designation.
Why is catastrophic designation important?
Catastrophic designation became even important in 1992 when changes were made in Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws. Catastrophic designation became even more important in July 2013.
The importance of catastrophic designation comes primarily from the artificial limits on workers’ compensation benefits. Without a catastrophic designation, an injured worker will not receive medical treatment or wage loss benefits after 400 weeks pass from the date of injury.
Serious injuries often require medical treatment of some kind for life. Serious injuries can also make it very difficult to return to work. Keeping eligibility for continued benefits is very important in the event that you remain out of work or need medical treatment.
Workers’ compensation eye injuries sometimes cause permanent visual impairment. An individual with permanent vision impairment should receive a permanent partial disability rating.
With eye injuries, there is some question about how to properly rate the loss of an eye. The Georgia law regarding PPD ratings specifically says that the loss of vision in one eye is worth 150 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits. This rating may be higher than the rating that would be assigned using the AMA Guides. Georgia law generally allows an injured worker to get paid whichever PPD rating would pay more benefits. So, you need to make sure you are paid the higher rating.
Returning to work
Returning to work after a work injury often involves the offer of a light duty job by your employer. While there are no specific rules that apply to Georgia workers’ compensation eye injuries, other laws that interact with workers’ compensation could certainly affect an offer to return to work.
One law that will almost definitely apply is the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). If the ADA applies to your employer, it may require your employer to accommodate your vision impairment. Make sure your employer complies with the law when trying to return you to work.