Third-party liability in Georgia workers’ compensation cases
O.C.G.A 34-9-11 states that injuries and accidents that occur on the job fall exclusively under the workers’ compensation statute. This means that you have to follow the procedures and statutes of limitations, and that your case falls under the jurisdiction of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. Additionally, this statute goes on to say that because the injury falls under the workers’ compensation statute, all other rights and remedies shall be excluded.
Therefore, the legal remedies for compensation after being injured on the job from your employer are limited to those rights found under the workers’ compensation statute.
In Georgia, an injured worker is entitled to indemnity benefits if:
- they are taken out of work by the authorized treating physician or placed on work restrictions that the employer cannot completely accommodate,
- they receive medical treatment for that injured body part with an authorized treating physician for up to 400 weeks if they are not deemed catastrophic, and
- a permanent partial impairment rating to that injured body part is determined by the authorized treating physician.
It doesn’t matter whose fault the injury was, or whether or not your employer knew that the type of work you were doing was dangerous—the injured worker is still limited to pursuing a remedy under the workers’ compensation statute. Because of this, you cannot recover for pain and suffering against your employer.
This fact is very important so let’s repeat it:
You cannot recover pain and suffering in a workers’ compensation case against your employer.
Examples of how Georgia’s workers’ compensation “exclusive remedy” provision affects injured workers
An example of how Georgia workers’ compensation law can limit an injured workers’ rights recently happened to one of our clients. The client was injured due to a shelf falling onto her. Employees had informed the supervisor many times that the boxes placed on that shelf were precariously stacked. The supervisor ignored these complaints and instructed the workers to continue to perform their duties, some of which included working next to the shelves with the boxes improperly stacked.
One day, when our client was working, these boxes caused the shelf to fall on top of her. She wanted to pursue a claim against her employer for negligence in maintaining the boxes and causing her severe injury. Unfortunately, O.C.G.A. 34-9-11 did not allow her to sue her employer outside of workers’ compensation.
Another common scenario involves an on-the-job auto accident. If the injured worker was at fault for the crash, they can recover only from the workers’ compensation carrier. In this scenario, it actually benefits the injured worker that there is not fault liability in workers’ compensation, because they wouldn’t be able to recover anything from a third-party lawsuit due to their own negligence.
Another common situation involving a work-related auto accident is when a co-employee is driving the vehicle and causes the accident. In this scenario, the injured worker was neither at fault nor caused the accident. They were merely a passenger in the vehicle. In this instance, the injured worker is once again limited on what they can recover based upon the exclusive remedy provision of the workers’ compensation statute. This is similar to the aforementioned shelf scenario in that the negligence of the employer or a co-employee exempts the employer from liability under O.C.G.A. 34-9-11.
Exceptions: when injured workers can file a third-party personal injury lawsuit
If the injured worker was hurt in a motor vehicle accident, and the at-fault party was neither a co-employee or the injured worker, only then they can recover for both in the workers’ compensation sphere and in the personal injury sphere. This is one exception under the exclusive remedy rule.
The exceptions to the exclusive remedy rule only apply when a third party—not a fellow employee or the employer—is responsible for the accident. In this instance, there are two separate claims. There’s still a workers’ compensation claim, but there is also a third party tort claim.
In this case, the injured worker is allowed to get indemnity benefits (if they are applicable) and medical treatment paid for by the workers’ compensation insurance carrier, as well as a permanent partial impairment rating.
The exclusive remedy provision in a workers’ compensation case only applies to your employer and people under their control. This exemption does NOT allow third parties who cause an injury to assert that the injured worker is bound by the workers’ compensation statute and cannot sue them via a third party lawsuit. Just because an individual is working, doesn’t mean that all their rights have been forfeited.
In fact, there are instances and scenarios not involving the employer where the injured worker can recover against a third-party. These circumstances arise when the injury to the injured worker was a result of the third-party who was not under the employer’s control.
A common example of this is when a third-party is responsible for the maintenance of a machine. If that machine malfunctions and causes an injury to the employee, the injured worker may be able to pursue a third-party claim against the company whose job it was to maintain the machine. Additionally, if there is a defective product or a slip and fall at a third-party’s place of business, there may be a claim against the third party.
In the case of third-party torts arising out of a work-related accidents, these cases are very fact specific and it’s best to contact an experienced attorney at Gerber & Holder to discuss whether or not the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation applies.