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Georgia High Court Holds Statutory Penalty is Time-Barred in Workers’ Compensation Case

file1521271603232-morguefile-duboix-300x225.jpgThe Supreme Court of Georgia has found that an injured employee waited too long to request statutory penalties in a workers’ compensation case. In Marta v. Reid, an individual filed a workers’ compensation claim following a workplace injury that occurred in October 1999. Soon afterward, his employer began paying him total disability benefits. Eventually, the payments ceased when the employee returned to work. Apparently, 12 of the 32 disability payments the man received were untimely under the Georgia workers’ compensation statute. About eight years after the man returned to work, the employee demanded that his employer pay him statutory penalties for the untimely payments. His employer asserted that the man’s claim was time-barred and refused to remit the requested funds to the worker.

Next, the worker requested a hearing regarding the statutory penalties he felt he was owed before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). At the hearing, the ALJ found that the worker’s statutory penalty claim was a change in condition that was barred by the two-year statute of limitations included in OCGA § 34-9-104. The State Board and the Superior Court later agreed. The Georgia Court of Appeals, however, reversed the ALJ’s decision and held that the worker’s claim was not subject to a statute of limitations. In response, the employer asked the Georgia Supreme Court to review the case.

The Supreme Court stated the workers’ compensation law includes only two statutory limitation periods. One requires an injured worker to file his or her claim within one year. The other, relied upon by the ALJ, relates to a hurt employee’s change in condition that could modify any previous final decisions. The Georgia high court then examined the employer’s argument that the ALJ correctly determined the worker’s claim was a change in condition. After reviewing the plain language of the Georgia workers’ compensation code, the court said a change in condition normally relates to a modified physical or economic condition. The Supreme Court of Georgia held that the Court of Appeals was correct in holding the worker did not experience a change in condition based on such factors.

After that, the Georgia high court stated that the language of the law also includes a worker’s change in status under the definition of a change in condition. The Georgia Supreme Court next addressed what exactly constitutes a worker’s change in status under OCGA § 34-9-104. According to the court, a Georgia employee’s status is established by his or her legal condition in the context of the employment relationship. Because of this, the court found that the worker’s status in the case was most recently established approximately eight years ago when his employer made the last disability benefit payment to him.

Finally, the Georgia Supreme Court stated although the statutory penalty was automatically due to the worker when his employer failed to make timely disability payments to him, his claim was now barred by the two-year statute of limitations included in OCGA § 34-9-104. Since the worker’s statutory penalty claim was barred by the relevant workers’ compensation code, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals.

If you were hurt or a loved one was injured or killed on the job anywhere in Georgia, you need an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer on your side to help you protect your rights. For a free legal consultation with a skillful attorney, please call Julie A. Rice, Attorney at Law, & Affiliates today at (770) 865-8654 or

Contact Us online. Our law firm has years of experience helping injured clients in Atlanta and across Georgia achieve the workers’ compensation benefits that they deserve based on the law.

Additional Resources:

Marta v. Reid, Ga: Supreme Court 2014

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Ebola Is Not Only a Hot Topic on the National Stage but also a Hot Topic in Atlanta, Georgia at the Public Health Law Conference ~ part 1, Georgia Injury Lawyer Blawg, October 18, 2014

Photo credit: DuBoix, MorgueFile

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