Most people have never heard of the "exclusive remedy" provision of Georgia's workers' compensation law. Given the frequency with which the word "exclusive" is used in conjunction with a sales pitch in popular culture (such as an "exclusive offer" or an "exclusive resort"), the term might be quite confusing in the context of a work-related injury
Prior to modern-day workers' compensation laws, if a worker was hurt on the job, he or she had the right to sue the employer in tort. To be successful, the worker had to show that the employer was negligent - that is, the employer failed to act in a reasonably prudent manner, thereby causing the worker's injury. Proof of negligence is no longer necessary under today's Georgia workers' compensation laws, which is a good thing because there are many ways that employees can be seriously injured at work without the employer necessarily being negligent in causing an accident.
But isn't there a catch, you may wonder? Yes - the "catch" is the exclusive remedy provision.
Exclusivity of Rights and Remedies Under Georgia Law
Under Georgia Code § 34-9-11, an employee's right to pursue workers' compensation benefits from his or her employer (or its workers' compensation insurance carrier) "shall EXCLUDE all other rights and remedies" that the employee would have had against his or her employer (emphasis added). In other words, the good news is that the employee does not have to prove negligence, but the bad news is that the employee is limited to the benefits available under workers' compensation, which are typically less than the compensation the employee might have received in a successful tort action.
Whereas workers' compensation seeks to hold the employer responsible only for the employee's medical expenses and partial reimbursement of lost earnings (or earning potential) due to a temporary or permanent disability, a traditional negligence lawsuit could result in a judgment for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and even payment for a spouse's loss of consortium with the injured person.
The Exception to the Exclusion
Fortunately, there is an important exception to the general rule of the exclusive remedy doctrine: when a third party tortfeasor was to blame for the employee's injury. This can happen when an employee is required to operate a motor vehicle as part of his or her employment duties and is involved in a car accident that was another driver's fault. It can also happen when an employee is hurt due to a defective product that he or she must use on the job, although such cases can be very complicated (especially if the employer removed a safety protection from the product). It can even happen when an employee is making a delivery and slips and falls on someone else's property due to negligent maintenance.
It is important to note that the notice requirements, statutes of limitations, and statutes of repose for these various types of claims can be different, so it is important to talk to a lawyer about your legal rights in order to understand your responsibility to act in a timely fashion. A failure to give proper notice or file a claim with the limitations period is usually fatal to what could otherwise have been a valid claim. It should also be noted that the employer will probably seek repayment of any money paid out in workers' compensation benefits, and this should be taken into consideration in deciding whether a third-party lawsuit is worth the time and expense.
Talk to an Atlanta Workers' Compensation Attorney
If you have been hurt on the job, you need to talk to an attorney about your case as soon as possible. While any personal injury case has the potential to be much more complicated than it initially seems, this is especially true when it comes to workplace injury claims. To schedule a free consultation with a skillful Atlanta workers' compensation attorney, call the Law Offices of T. Andrew Miller, LLC, at (678) 894-4758.