The Georgia Legislature recognized that when workers are injured on-the-job, they are entitled not only to receive adequate compensation, but also to obtain those benefits in a timely manner. In order to give employers incentive to comply, lawmakers passed a provision of OCGA 34-9-221 that allows for injured employees to seek the imposition of statutory penalties for late benefits payments.Specifically, the law states benefits must be paid weekly, with the first becoming due on the 21st day after employer has knowledge of injury or death and has to be paid via electronic transfer. Payments that are not paid when due automatically accrue a 15 percent late penalty. Payments that are more than 20 days late accrue a 20 percent late fee.
These late penalties are payable not to the state but directly to the injured worker. However, that injured worker needs to file a claim for benefits, and it helps to have an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer. Also, it’s important to make those claims within a timely fashion. Otherwise, as the recent case of Marta v. Reid illustrates, the opportunity may be forever lost.
The Marta case was recently before the Georgia Supreme Court, which overturned a Court of Appeals ruling that a claim for late fee penalties in workers’ compensation payments essentially had no statute of limitations and can be made at any time. The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed, siding instead with the commission, which found the statute of limitations barred such a claim as a “change in condition” after just two years.
Atlanta work injury lawyers recognize that any time a dispute rises with regard to workers’ compensation payments, it’s best to consult an attorney as soon as possible. Waiting too long can result not only in making the dispute more difficult to investigate, it could also mean forfeiting any right to collect anything at all.
According to the records in the Marta case, an employee suffered a compensable work injury in October 1999. He filed for – and received – workers’ compensation benefits. His employer soon doled out the first of 32 temporary total disability payments. However, 12 of those 32 payments were not issued in a timely manner, per the terms of the workers’ compensation statute – specifically under OCGA 34-9-221. Court records don’t indicate how late the payments were, but we know the worker returned to the job in June 2002, and the benefits were suspended entirely at that time.
Then, in 2010, some eight years after those payments were suspended, the worker demanded payment of the statutory penalties on those dozen late payments. The employer refused this demand, indicating the claim was barred under the statute of limitations. The worker sought a hearing to compel the employer to pay.
An administrative law judge overseeing the case classified the worker’s request as a change in condition, per OCGA 34-9-104, and thus found it barred by the two-year statute of limitations. That ruling was upheld by the appellate division and the state board. However, it was overturned by the Georgia Court of Appeals, which granted review and reversed, finding statutory penalties not governed by any limitation period.
Upon review by the Georgia Supreme Court, that ruling was overturned. The state high court reinstated findings of the administrative law judge and the lower courts. The court ruled that when the employee returned to work, there was a “change in status” and therefore a “change in condition” (because he was no longer receiving workers’ compensation benefits) that set the clock ticking for the statute of limitations on his claim for late penalties for the previous payments.
For information on Georgia work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.