Workers Compensation Overview: What is it?
Workmen’s or workers’ compensation was what they call a grand bargain that was reached about 100 years ago with most states. They’re individual state laws. Georgia has its own workers’ compensation law.
As you might recall, towards the turn of the century, there was a lot of manufacturing going on and a lot of employers were getting sued because people were getting injured within their workplace, and the workers were bringing lawsuits.
The employers didn’t like that because the employers were having to fend off these lawsuits. The workers didn’t like it because they were subject to common law defenses such as contributory negligence, which could bar them from recovery.
The individual states, about the same they developed what’s known as a system of workers’ compensation. It’s compensation without regard to fault so even if the injured employee may have been doing something negligent on his own, it’s not going to bar him from recovery.
On the other side of that bargain is that the injured employee, in order to get his workers’ compensation benefits, has given up his or her rights to sue their employer or their co-employees for injuries they may have sustained in the workplace.
So, it’s designed to protect both the worker and the company?
Yes, it provides benefits for both. Originally, of course, its main emphasis is protecting the worker but certainly the employer gets benefits out of it as well. #1, they have a covered workforce so their workers don’t have to worry if they do get hurt, about feeding their families, and #2, it provides them with what they call the exclusive remedy doctrine. In other words, the worker’s exclusive remedy in the case of an injury is workers’ comp, it is not to sue the employer for things like pain-and-suffering and permanent injuries.
What are workers’ compensation benefits?
The injured worker is entitled to three benefits under workers’ comp, and only three benefits. Those three benefits are medical treatment without any deductible, indemnity benefits, which is considered your lost time benefit. If you’re losing time from work because of an injury, that’s your weekly salary that’s being paid back to you, and the third benefit is the PPD rating or the permanent partial disability rating, which is paid at the very end of the case when all the indemnity benefits have already been paid out.
What types of injuries, what injuries are covered by workers’ compensation, and what injuries are not covered under this?
Most injuries that you can think of, most physical injuries would be covered. There are some defenses where the employer can say the injury might be idiopathic. The meaning of idiopathic is come from an unknown cause. Typical types of idiopathic injuries can occur if a person, let’s say a person faints at work, the worker would look to point out specific things … and I’ve had cases like this … where the worker points out specific things that shows why he fainted, and that the reason he fainted was due to some factor that has taken place at work.
The employer in those situations will know this is just something that happens to people sometimes. Sometimes people faint and we just don’t know the reason for that. Idiopathic injuries are not covered, and there are other types of injuries like purely psychological injuries. Those are not covered. If you have a physical injury that is tied to a psychological injury like, quite often, we’ll have physical injuries where someone gets their leg cut off, they’re going to have severe depression, and that’s a psychological injury. You can be disabled from the psychological injury, but if it’s purely psychological, that injury wouldn’t be covered by workers’ comp.
Purely psychological injuries – aren’t covered.
I can give you an example of that. There was a case, it was probably 15, 20 years ago, there were massive floods down in Albany, Georgia, and there was a guy whose job it was to go around the city and clean up the city.
Well, when these floods happened in Albany, and I think he worked for the park service down there or the sanitation service for the city, but when the floods came on, what it caused to happen were all these coffins and bodies started rising to the surface in Albany, and the person, this worker, while he had no physical injury, he went around gathering up coffins and some of these corpses that were floating out in the river. Even though he had no physical injury, about three days after he spent time doing that, he developed severe depression and severe psychological injuries.
There’s been a move in Georgia to correct that because it’s not a … when someone sees something like that that has happened, it’s clear that that is something that’s work-related, but the way the law’s currently written, a purely psychological injury is not covered.
So that could change in the future?
That’s correct. As of now, purely psychological injuries are not covered.
Can an employee sue their employer for work-related injury under workers’ compensation, or would it have to be a different set of circumstances?
A lot of people think of a jury trial when you use that term “sue,” like if you sue someone in a car wreck case and you got to a jury and you have that type of lawsuit. Workers’ compensation is an administrative process which is you file a request for hearing and the case is heard before an administrative law judge, and it is not what you typically think of as a lawsuit.
You can file the workers’ comp case against your employer, but as I was saying before, your exclusive remedy is that workers’ comp case. You cannot file a separate lawsuit against an employer for your physical injuries.
Now, of course, you can sue for employer for things like violations of things like federal law, such as discrimination and that can be racial or age discrimination, or different acts like the Americans with Disabilities Act. Those can be lawsuits, but in terms of your physical injury for a work injury, your exclusive remedy is the workers’ comp administrative remedy.
Attorney Zack Hendon is here to help.
This has been Zack Hendon, helping all of us understand workmen’s compensation and workmen’s compensation law a little better, so that we know what we’re looking for and when we need to talk to an attorney about it.
Zack Hendon is an attorney with 30 years’ experience, and if you’re in the metro Atlanta area and you think you have need of a workmen’s compensation attorney, be sure to give him a call at (770) 284-3737.
Disclaimer: This is for informational purposes only. Zack is an attorney with over 30 years experience, and he’s providing this information to help you, but it cannot be considered legal advice. If you need legal advice, you’ll need to set up a meeting for a consultation with an attorney near you. If you’re in the metro Atlanta area, please give the Hendon Law Firm a call to schedule an appointment with Zack.