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Do Safety Rule Violations Bar Workers Compensation Benefits?

Many employer have safety rules they require employers to follow.  Sometimes, the employer has a manual that spells out the rules.  Other times, your employer just gives you instructions in writing.

If you suffer an injury at work, your employer may try to claim that violating a safety rule caused your injury.  Can you still get Georgia workers compensation benefits in this situation? A 2017 decision of the Georgia Supreme Court provides some guidance as to what would probably happen.


What happened in the Supreme Court decision?

To understand the Supreme Court decision, it helps to understand how a workers’ compensation appeal works:

  1. Mr. Burdette had a workers compensation hearing in front of an administrative law judge.  The judge ruled said his violation of a safety rule was willful misconduct that barred him from receiving workers compensation benefits.
  2. Mr. Burdette appealed to the Appellate Division of the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation.  The Appellate Division upheld (affirmed) the administrative law judge’s decision
  3. Mr. Burdette appealed to the Superior Court which also upheld the decision
  4. Mr. Burdette appealed to the Court of Appeals which ruled in his favor (reversing the earlier decisions)
  5. The workers compensation insurance company appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court

The Georgia Supreme Court determined that the Court of Appeals applied the wrong law.  The Court of Appeals had concluded that misconduct had to be almost criminal in order to prevent a worker from receiving workers compensation benefits.

The Supreme Court said that intentional and deliberate acts done knowing that they are likely to results in serious injury or with a reckless disregard of the consequences could prevent an injured worker from receiving benefits.  So, what does that mean?

Will Mr. Burdette receive workers compensation benefits?

The disagreement in Mr. Burdette’s case was about how he descended from the tower.  He tried to execute a controlled descent.  His employer said that violated the rules in that situation.  Mr. Burdette fell and suffered severe injuries.

The Supreme Court did not decide whether Mr. Burdette will receive workers compensation benefits.  Instead, the court decided that a workers compensation judge needs to review the facts again.  After reviewing the facts, the judge should apply the proper legal standard and make a decision.

How does the Supreme Court decision affect your workers compensation case?

The Georgia Supreme Court has now decided what the legal standard is for willful misconduct.  The law requires other courts and judges to follow the standard the Georgia Supreme Court established.

If I violate a safety rule, do I automatically lose my case?

No.  You do not automatically lose your case.

The Supreme Court said that two situations bar you from receiving workers compensation benefits when you suffer an injury because of a safety rule violation.

  1. You knew that the safety rule violation would likely result in serious injury
  2. You violated the safety rule with a reckless disregard of the probable consequences

So, what does that mean? Your violation of the safety rule has to be more than what the law calls “mere negligence”.  That means if you simply made a mistake or forgot the rule then you should still qualify for workers compensation benefits.

Safety equipment

But what if you were goofing off? What if you were mad? What if you were in a hurry to get an order done so you did not have time to follow the rules? Would these actions prevent you from receiving benefits?

The facts of your particular case will likely matter a lot:

  • Did your employer regularly enforce the safety rule?
  • Was the safety rule clear?
  • Did you know that it was likely to cause serious injury?

Other specific facts will matter as well.  Many times, you may not have a definite answer about whether you will win your case or not.

What should I do if the insurance company denies my workers compensation benefits?

The workers compensation insurance company may controvert your claim if you violated a safety rule.  You need to know that there are things you can do.

I would recommend that you contact a workers compensation attorney if you receive a Form WC-1 or Form WC-3 denying their claim.  If you have questions about some things you should consider before hiring a workers compensation attorney, read this short article I wrote.

Also, remember that contacting an attorney does not mean that you have to hire them.  You need to find out what your options are.

What if I have other questions about workers compensation?

Georgia’s workers compensation system can be very confusing.  You have to worry about getting the treatment you need and paying your bills while also worrying about not missing any deadlines that could cause you to lose your right to receive workers compensation benefits.

If you have questions, I would recommend that you try to get answers.  To find out more about how to schedule a time to talk to me about your workers compensation questions, just read this short article.

Jason Perkins is an attorney who specializes in representing injured workers.  He regularly publishes videos and write blog articles about Georgia’s workers compensation system and issues that are important to injured workers and their families.

To be notified of Jason’s new workers compensation videos, subscribe to his Georgia Workers Compensation Video Series channel on YouTube by clicking the subscribe button below.

Brittney-lee orourkeBrittney-lee orourke
05:23 18 Feb 22
Amazing! Jason and his team were very helpful and had the best communication by far. Walked me though every step with great detail and had answers for any question I had. They handled my case better then I could imagine, it was a weird case and they stayed on top of it and kept me updated every step of the way! Highly recommend this Team! Thanks so much to Jason and his Awesome team!-Brittney
China JonesChina Jones
18:58 08 Feb 22
I absolutely love this group of attorneys, when I was at my lowest they did everything they could to help me get justice for my injury. I believe if I were to have never picked my phone up and called the amazing group that helped me I definitely would not have received my idea of rights. If you have an issue and are just not sure please understand that they will help you, stay in contact, answer any question you have, and for sure get you the justice you deserve I thank them from the bottom of my heart and I will definitely refer them to anyone who has been hurt because they most definitely care about their work and clients.
Luv LocsLuv Locs
16:08 15 Jan 22
The entire law office was attentive and responsive to all of my concerns dealing with my workers compensation case.
21:14 02 Jan 22
If you must get a lawyer involved, you’d do well to work with Jason Perkins and his team at Perkins Studdard Law.They were thorough in gathering information and in sharing all the steps in the workers comp process specific to my case. Jason and the team were responsive to my bevy of questions and concerns.I appreciated the informative videos and consultations provided by Jason over video meetings and multiple phone calls.I hope I’m never injured on the job again. However, if I am and if my employer responds as my previous employer did, I’ll contact Perkins Studdard Law immediately to handle the case.
Dana BessDana Bess
23:57 10 Dec 21
Everyone at Perkins Studdard was kind and professional. They were always extremely responsive and answered all questions that I had and followed up to make sure I had an understanding of what was going on along with emailing videos to explain every step of my case so I would know what to expect and be prepared. Jason is a very genuine person and I trusted him with my case. He answered so many questions for me even before I retained him as my WC lawyer. I highly recommend him and his associates at Perkins Studdard.

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