Is Workers’ Comp My Only Option?

This video features Sarah E. Stottlemyer, an Employment and Labor Law attorney based in Georgia.

Atlanta Work Injury Attorney Explains

Video Transcript:

Sarah Stottlemyer: 

You don't have to prove fault or negligence, and they should pay income benefits and medical treatment to get you back to work, or depending on how severe it is for the remainder of your days.

Tom Mustin: 

Is workers' comp your only option after an on-the-job accident? We're gonna talk to Attorney Sarah Stottlemyer about that on today's Ask the Lawyer. Sarah, thanks for joining us.

Sarah Stottlemyer: 

Thank you for having me.

Tom Mustin: 

Great to have you here. Now, after an on-the-job accident, can people file a workers' comp claim by themselves, and when should people speak to an attorney after a work injury?

Sarah Stottlemyer: 

I would say a general rule of thumb would be to contact a workers' comp attorney as soon as possible, as soon as... As closely as possible to the actual date of injury. They can file a workers' comp claim by themselves. The way that they do that is say obviously, notify their employer rep or HR initially immediately as close as possible to the work-related injury, and then they will file it with their workers' comp insurance carrier.

Tom Mustin: 

So let's talk about what benefits workers' comp covers and what it doesn't cover as well.

Sarah Stottlemyer: 

Okay. In Georgia, workers' comp covers a percentage of loss of income benefits. It is your... Based on what's called your average weekly wage, which is 13 weeks prior to your actual date of injury, you then get a percentage or two-thirds of what that average weekly wage is, or unfortunately, Georgia has the lowest workers' comp weekly rate in the entire country, which is terrible for our clients, but it has a maximum weekly rate of 675 currently. In addition to that, you receive your medical benefits that are paid for, provided that you are treating with what's called an authorized treating physician. You are not allowed to just go out and find one of the doctor of your choice or see your primary care doctor. Usually, there's a panel posted, which you would select a doctor from, and if not, then a doctor can be agreed upon. So medical treatment directly related to your work-related injury, those income benefits. And then towards the end of your claim, there's something that's called permanent impairment rating that's given of how your body has physically changed due to the work-related accident, and those are permanent... Partial disability benefits. Again, those are also based on your average weekly wage.

Tom Mustin: 

What is a third-party claim in workers' comp? Can you give us a few examples about that?

Sarah Stottlemyer: 

So a third-party claim is something where, say, for example, if you are a construction worker working on a construction site and maybe you had... You were climbing up a ladder or had a crane operation type scenario where it would fail, that could be a possible products liability case, that would be a third-party liability claim. If you are a delivery driver, say you deliver beer or something and you're going into a convenience store and you slip and you fall in there, you could have a possible premises liability claim in addition to your workers' compensation claim. There's also a motor vehicle accident. If you drive a lot for your work, and say, a tractor trailer runs you off the road or strikes you, then that would be a third-party liability claim against that driver or any other driver that is at fault for causing your injuries.

Tom Mustin: 

Okay. So does the employer or insurance company tell workers if they have other options kind of beyond the workers' comp option?

Sarah Stottlemyer: 

No, no. Your employer nor the insurance company are going to tell you any sort of ways to recover in addition to workers' comp, primarily because they're trying to reduce their exposure in any sort of case that may arise around... I mean, if you're best friends with your employer or something where it's... You're working for your cousin or your uncle, maybe they know, but I think the biggest problem is, is most of these people don't know what other type of claims you can have. A lot of actual attorneys don't know what other additional claims you can have whenever a work-related injury happens. So I would recommend reaching out to an attorney as quickly as possible to kind of look at all of your options.

Tom Mustin: 

So let's talk about some of the types of third-party claims that exist. We talked a little bit about that before. What if you're a construction worker and you're injured on the job, your tractor falls on you, what kind of options do you have there?

Sarah Stottlemyer: 

So again, that would pro... And it's gonna be, obviously, case-specific, but it would be more along the lines of if some sort of manufacturing equipment failed, then you would have a products liability case. Sometimes you have equipment that could be rented from a different group, or someone's operating the equipment that works for a different company than yours, things of that nature, you can file third-party liability claims against, as long as it's not your direct employer. Workers' comp is what's called an exclusive remedy. So if you are actually on the job, you cannot sue your actual employer for any sort of negligence that they may have done. It was part of what's called The Grand Bargain, so you don't have to prove fault or negligence and they should pay income benefits and medical treatment to get you back to work or depending on how severe it is for the remainder of your days. Unfortunately, that's not really how it works anymore. The grand bargain has been eating away little by little, so it gets tricky. But as long as you have somebody else that is actually at fault or being negligent that caused your injuries, that is not your direct employer, there's a possibility that you can have a third-party liability claim against them as well.

Tom Mustin: 

So Sarah, I'm sure some people don't wanna pay an attorney's fees in a case like this. Tell us why it's so important that they actually do contact a lawyer in these kind of cases?

Sarah Stottlemyer: 

So the good news is, at least, partially now, of course, most people don't ever really want to involve attorneys for anything, and I frankly can't blame them personally for that.

[chuckle]

The good news in workers' comp cases in Georgia is that it is on a contingency basis, so we don't get paid anything, we're not paid an hourly rate, unless you settle your claim, and then we are entitled to 25% of your settlement, currently not including medical treatment, but that is the only way that workers' comp attorneys get paid in the state of Georgia. So you don't have any upfront cost. There's no... There's no fees that are associated with talking to attorneys, there's not an initial meeting cost. So the best reason to get a workers' comp attorney as quickly as possible, I would say, is due to doctor selection. In Georgia, you have... Generally, most employers have what's called a panel of physicians that's posted, and you have to... You're entitled to select a doctor for your medical treatment off of that panel. The problem is, is that there are insurance company-friendly doctors, which the majority of them are on that panel, or you can have injured worker-friendly doctors. If there is not a panel of physicians posted that you are entitled to seek treatment with a doctor who accepts workers' comp and you're allowed to choose that doctor. If there is a panel posted, then you have to make a selection from the doctors that are on that panel.

Sarah Stottlemyer: 

Unfortunately, you could get stuck with a horrendous doctor, where I've seen where somebody may be completely disabled and the doctor releases them to full duty. Everything in your workers' comp claim hinges on your doctor and what they say. What referral medical treatment can be authorized, whether or not you're entitled to... Are able to do light duty work or whether or not you're fully disabled, so the doctor selection is the probably biggest part of your worker's comp claim, and the attorneys who practice workers' comp in your particular state are gonna be the ones who know which doctors you wanna seek medical treatment with.

Tom Mustin: 

Well, a lot of great information. Sarah, we really appreciate you joining us today.

Sarah Stottlemyer: 

Thank you so much for having me. Great talking to you.

Tom Mustin: 

And that's gonna do it for this episode of Ask the Lawyer. My guest has been Sarah Stottlemyer. If you wanna ask Sarah a question about your situation, call the number you see on the screen. Thanks for watching. I'm Tom Mustin for Ask the Lawyers.

Disclaimer: This video is for informational purposes only. In some states, this video may be deemed Attorney Advertising. The choice of lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.


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