In a recent Georgia workers’ compensation case, the Georgia Supreme Court recently issued a decision clarifying what an employer has to show in resolved work-related injury aggravation cases. The Georgia Supreme Court considered whether an employer has to show suitable employment is available in order to stop paying workers’ compensation benefits if it has already shown that a work-related aggravation of an injury is no longer the cause of the employee’s disability.
The Facts of the Case
In that case, the employee injured his right knee when he was working at a youth detention center. He had three knee surgeries and eventually settled his workers’ compensation claim about a year later. As part of the settlement agreement, the employee admitted that he was partially disabled, his condition would not improve, and he would not be able to perform the same type of gainful employment on a regular basis in the future. He was given a 20 percent permanent impairment rating and was out of work for about four years.
The employee then applied for a job as a meter reader. When he applied, the employee did not disclose information that would have demonstrated that he was not physically capable of performing the job. Instead, the employee stated that he was physically capable of performing the job functions, including standing and walking. The employee got the job, and while he was working about two years later, he stepped in a hole and re-injured his knee.
The second employer later discovered that the employee had provided false information on the job application by stating that he was physically able to perform the job and failing to disclose his prior injury and work restrictions. The second employer stopped paying the employee indemnity workers’ compensation benefits, but it later reinstated them after the employee’s doctor recommended an additional surgery. After the surgery, the doctor believed that the employee had returned to the same condition as before his second injury, and the second employer stopped paying benefits again. The employee requested that his benefits be reinstated, but the judge found that the second employer showed that the employee’s restrictions were the same as prior to the second injury and denied the request.
The Court’s Decision and What It Means for Georgia Workers’ Compensation Cases
The Court held that an employer does not have to demonstrate the availability of suitable employment if it has already demonstrated that the work-related aggravation is no longer the cause of the employee’s disability. The Georgia Supreme Court explained that the relevant question in these circumstances was whether the employee returned to his condition before the second injury, not whether he returned to full capacity. If an employee’s job-related injury has merely improved, but he is still suffering from the effects of the injury, an employer has to show that suitable employment is available before terminating benefits. However, if an employee had a preexisting condition before the injury occurred, and if the effects of the work-related injury aggravation cease, the employer is no longer responsible. Therefore, in this case, since the employee’s condition was the same as before the second work injury, the second employer was no longer required to pay benefits.
Contact a Georgia Workers’ Compensation Attorney
If you have been injured in a workplace accident, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The Georgia law office of J. Franklin Burns, P.C. has decades of experience in workers’ compensation claims and can help you pursue the benefits you deserve. We offer quality legal representation and responsive client service. For a free consultation, call us at 404-920-4708 or contact us through our online form.