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Georgia Supreme Court Holds State Workers’ Compensation Act Does Not Violate U.S. Constitution

IMG_5451_vert-morguefile-usename-revwarheart-200x300.jpgThe Supreme Court of Georgia has held that a non-dependent parent may not collect benefits under the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Statute. In Barzey v. City of Cuthbert, an unmarried 37-year-old man with no dependents was tragically killed in a workplace accident. His mother and only heir at law filed a lawsuit against the man’s employer, seeking to collect benefits under the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act. In her complaint, the woman acknowledged that the law is the only avenue through which a Georgia worker’s heir may collect financial compensation following a work-related death.

Under the Act, benefits are only paid to the dependents of an employee who is killed at work during his or her dependency. If the decedent leaves no dependents, the law states only reasonable funeral expenses may be recovered from an employer. Since the language of the statute barred the decedent’s mother from collecting financial compensation for his death, she claimed the act violated her due process and equal protection rights under the United States Constitution.

After a trial court denied the woman’s motion for a judgment based on the pleadings, the man’s employer filed a motion for summary judgment. When such a motion is filed, the moving party essentially asks the court to hold that there are no issues of material fact in dispute and rule that the moving party is entitled to judgment in his or her favor based upon the law. The trial court stated the woman’s case was without merit and granted the employer’s motion. The decedent’s mother then appealed her case directly to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

On appeal, the state high court first determined that the woman correctly asserted constitutional question jurisdiction with the Georgia Supreme Court. Despite this, the court stated it would not consider any of the woman’s potential claims under the Georgia Constitution because they were not properly presented to the court. Next, the Supreme Court of Georgia addressed the woman’s argument that the lower court violated the law when it granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment before her time to respond expired. The court said although the trial court was premature in its ruling, the error caused her no harm and did not require reversal.

Finally, the Georgia Supreme Court turned to the woman’s constitutional law claims. According to the court, a number of other states have upheld similar laws because they were rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose. The court next said the statute’s different treatment of dependent and non-dependent heirs served the government’s purpose of providing workers’ compensation benefits and did not violate the equal protection or due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The Georgia high court added that the state legislature’s power to enact laws like the one at issue is firmly established.

Because the woman’s constitutional rights were not violated by the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act, the Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment to her deceased son’s employer.

If you were injured or a close relative was killed in an Atlanta workplace accident, you should have a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney on your side to help you protect your rights. For a free consultation with an experienced lawyer, call Julie A. Rice, Attorney at Law, & Affiliates at (770) 865-8654 or contact us through our website. Julie A. Rice, Attorney at Law, & Affiliates has years of experience assisting clients who were hurt at work across the State of Georgia.

Additional Resources:

Barzey v. City of Cuthbert, Ga: Supreme Court 2014

More Blogs:

$40K Medical Malpractice Verdict Raises to $ 250,000 Due to a High-Low Agreement between Attorneys while the Jury Deliberates, Georgia Injury Lawyer Blawg, November 4, 2014

Georgia High Court Holds Statutory Penalty is Time-Barred in Workers’ Compensation Case, Georgia Injury Lawyer Blawg, October 25, 2014

Photo credit: revwarheart, MorgueFile