Georgia workers’ compensation cases are often centered around the question of whether an employee’s injury was related to his employment. In some cases, injuries worsen over time, and an employee may need to seek additional compensation. However, employers often contest these claims. In a recent case, an appellate court considered whether a subsequent injury barred the employee from recovering workers’ compensation benefits for an earlier work-related injury. The employee had injured his back at work when he caught a falling ladder. He applied for workers’ compensation benefits and was awarded temporary total disability benefits and temporary partial disability benefits.
Later, the employee was injured outside work. The employee filed for benefits again, claiming that the second injury aggravated his existing injury. The workers’ compensation commission awarded him permanent partial disability benefits. The commission found his disability was partly caused by his work injury and partly due to pre-existing and subsequent conditions. Years later, the employee moved to reopen the case because he said his back condition had worsened. The case was reopened, but the commission found his second injury was a subsequent intervening event that broke the link between the work injury and his condition. The employee appealed the decision.
An appeals court explained that an award for temporary disability benefits considers the most recent injury, but an award for permanent disability benefits considers all of the injuries that caused the permanent disability. Therefore, the court determined that if an employee incurs an accidental injury and obtains workers’ compensation benefits, and then he incurs a subsequent intervening event, the intervening event does not preclude the employee from receiving additional permanent partial disability benefits for a decline in the employee’s condition. That is, even if there is a subsequent intervening event, the employee can still demonstrate that the employee’s condition has worsened and that the condition was caused by the work-related injury.
Subsequent Intervening Injuries
Generally, if a Georgia employee sustains a work-related injury, any subsequent injury that is a direct and natural result of the work-related injury is also compensable. However, it is not compensable if the subsequent injury is an independent intervening cause that is not attributable to the employee’s normal activity in light of the condition. Whether a subsequent injury is a direct and natural result of the original injury or whether it was a subsequent intervening cause depends on the facts of each case.
O.C.G.A. § 34-9-204(a) states:
No compensation shall be payable for the death or disability of an employee if his or her death is caused by or, insofar as his or her disability, may be aggravated, caused, or continued by a subsequent non work related injury which breaks the chain of causation between the compensable injury and the employee’s disability.
If the employer argues that an independent intervening cause has broken the chain of causation, the employer has the burden of proving that the chain of causation was broken.
Contact a Workers’ Compensation Attorney
If you or a member of your family has suffered a serious injury or death, do not let your employer prevent you from obtaining the compensation you deserve. At the law office of J. Franklin Burns, P.C., we have a track record of positive case outcomes resulting in millions of dollars in compensation. Our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys are former insurance defense attorneys, which means that we understand the other side’s tactics. This allows us to further our clients’ interests at trial or through settlement by using this inside knowledge and experience. Call us at 404-920-4708 or fill out the contact form on our website for a free case evaluation.