In many workers’ compensation claims, the primary issue is the fact the employee can no longer work. He or she needs coverage not only of medical bills, but of a portion of the wages lost and, in some cases, the loss of earning potential via permanent partial disability.
However, there are some cases in which a worker’s injuries are so severe, a spouse or other loved one has no choice but to forego their own employment to care for the injured person full-time. This is referred to as “attendant care,” and it is something for which spouses of injured workers can be compensated.
Compensation for attendant care in Georgia is often awarded in cases where a worker has suffered an injury to the spine or loses function in the arms or legs, such that the worker requires assistance to perform daily activities of life. Although sometimes nurse assistants are called to perform these duties, it’s often more cost efficient and better for everyone involved if a loved one is to be the one rendering care.
In Georgia, the provision under which such care is provided is O.C.G.A. 34-9-200(a), which requires employers to furnish employees entitled to such benefits the medical, surgical, hospital care and other treatment deemed necessary by a licensed physician. In its interpretation of this term “other treatment,” the Georgia Board of Workers’ Compensation has included in this definition the reasonable cost of attendant care, as directed by the treating physician. The board has added a fee schedule that provides hourly rates for non-medical attendant care, such as that which is provided by family members. This compensation is far less than what a registered nurse or other qualified professional would be paid for similar work, but at least some assistance is provided.
An example of litigation relating to attendant care benefits in workers’ compensation is the case of Chandler v. Atlantic Scrap & Processing, recently considered by the North Carolina Court of Appeal. According to court records, plaintiff had been hired to work for a metal and recycling company back in 1994. After nearly ten years on the job, she started her duties at 7 a.m. and as she was descending a flight of concrete stairs, fell backward and struck her head and neck on the back of the steps.
Although she seemed confused and was initially combative with EMS workers, she did not appear to be severely injured. However, over the course of weeks, months and years, it became apparent that this fall severely and profoundly affected her brain function. It started with dizziness, headaches and crying spells. It evolved into a deep depression, irrational fears of leaving the home or being separated for any length of time from her husband, significant memory and speech impairments, wild mood swings, inability to cook or care for her basic needs. Her intelligent quotient had been in the average range before the fall, and it dropped to the level of a four-year-old child. Doctors stated she would never get better, and she was declared totally permanently disabled.
Her husband was appointed her guardian, and sought attendant care compensation. The deputy commissioner agreed with the total permanent disability finding and awarded medical compensation, plus attendant care reimbursement of $15 an hour for 24/7 care. Defendant appealed and the case was taken all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court, where it was affirmed, except with a directive to remand for consideration of the rate of pay issue. It was later reduced to $11 an hour for 15 hours a day. No interest was awarded, but the ruling was retroactive to the start of the disability.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.