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Georgia Supreme Court Rules on Worker’s Injury

iStock_000001983354XSmall.jpgAs an Atlanta trial and work-related injury lawyer, I stay very current on cases in the Georgia courts. This is because it is vitally important that I am up-to-date on the rulings of our courts that could impact the areas of my law practice or my clients.

Earlier this week, the Georgia Supreme Court issued an opinion in Scott v. Shaw Industries. The case is interesting because it deals with a procedural issue that is always important in litigation, whether a party has complied with the statute of limitations in filing a case in our court system. In Scott, the Georgia Supreme court ruled on a technical issue and determined that the Court of Appeals properly held that affirmation of an award to an injured worker by an administrative law judge and by the superior court was improper.

The original injury to the worker took place in 1996. She was seriously injured by a carpet roller while serving in her job as a carpet inspector. She was put on a temporary total disability and continued to have physical problems and symptoms related to the injury.

In the lower court, the Georgia Court of Appeals decided in Shaw Industries, Inc. v. Scott, 310 Ga. App. 750, 752 (713 SE2d 917) (2011), that the administrative law judge (ALJ) was wrong to rule that Scott’s disability was from a fictional new injury, as distinguished from a change in condition. This was important to the case since allowing Scott’s 2009 claim for total temporary disability benefits as a new injury would mean that she had complied with the applicable two-year statute of limitations under Official Code of Georgia section 34-9-104 (b).

In granting what is called certiorari, the Supreme Court provided guidance in concluding that the concept of a “fictional new accident” is inapplicable in a case in which a worker suffering an injury goes back to work after receiving workers’ compensation benefits and then suffers a progressive worsening of his condition that forces the employee to stop working.
In this case, the injured worker returned to work and held various jobs at the company. But in 2009, she had severe pain that was deemed to have been caused by her original injury. She sought workers’ compensation benefits after she was advised not to return to work. After a hearing before the administrative law judge, her employer argued that her 2009 injuries were due to a change in condition. This allowed them to further argue that her claim was barred by the statute of limitations. After numerous appeals, the Supreme Court determined that her injuries were part of the original accident and were a worsening of her condition.
The Georgia courts have already ruled on how to determine whether a worker has a new injury or a change in condition. The Supreme Court citing Central State Hosp. v. James, 147 Ga. App. 308 (248 SE2d 678) (1978) noted that the controlling fact pattern had been established in Central Hospital: ” ‘ where the claimant sustains an injury and is awarded compensation during his period of disability .. [and] returns to his employment performing his normal duties or ordinary work. Then as a result of the wear and tear of ordinary life and the activity connected with performing his normal duties and not because of a specific job-related incident his condition gradually worsens to the point that he can no longer continue to perform his ordinary work. This gradual worsening or deterioration would constitute a change in his condition and not a new accident.’ That is what happened in this case.” (Slip Opinion pages 3-4.)

As a Gwinnett County, Georgia injury lawyer with the highest professional ratings from my peers, I represent accident and injury victims, including injured workers, who have sustained injuries in all surrounding cities and counties, including Duluth, Fulton County, Grayson, Gwinnett County and more. Please contact our law firm for a free confidential consultation at our main Gwinnett County law office, or at our offices in Decatur, the Perimeter and Buckhead.

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