Under Georgia law, most employers are required to purchase workers' compensation insurance if they have at least three employees. Generally, this is true regardless of whether those three workers are considered full-time, part-time, or seasonal.
There are only a few exceptions to this general requirement. Farm laborers, domestic servants, and federal government employees are among those who are not required to be covered by workers' compensation insurance. Unfortunately, not everyone follows the law.
Requirements Under Georgia Workers' Compensation Laws
A workplace injury can result in a disability (either temporary or permanent) and even death. Medical bills can be staggering, and, in some cases, an employee may never be able to work again. Workers' compensation laws are designed to shift this potential financial burden onto the employer, which derives much of the economic gain from a worker's efforts on the job. Workers' compensation insurance spreads that risk among many employers. Each company pays a premium in exchange for the insurance company being responsible for medical expenses, disability payments, and other covered benefits in the event of a workplace accident.
Alternatively, a business may opt to self-insure, but it must be approved to do so by the Georgia Self-Insurers Guaranty Trust Fund. It must also be certified by the workers' compensation board.
Penalties for Employers That Do Not Have Insurance
The Georgia State Board of Workers' Compensation maintains a website through which an injured worker can verify whether his or her employer had a policy of workers' compensation in place at the time of a particular work injury. When an employer willfully refuses to either purchase workers' compensation insurance or go through the process of becoming self-insured, the employer can face both civil and criminal penalties, including up to $5,000 in fines and up to a year in prison. In addition, the employer can be held directly liable for any workers' compensation benefits awarded to any injured employee.
A Illustrative Case
In one case, a construction worker fell some 12 feet while working for an employer that had no workers' compensation insurance. The workers' compensation board ordered the employer to pay the worker's medical expenses (which exceeded $50,000), temporary total disability benefits, and attorney fees. The board also added a penalty under Georgia Code § 34-9-221 due to the employer's failure to pay the benefits due within the time allowed by law.
It may ultimately prove difficult for the employee to collect all that he was awarded by the board, depending on whether the employer has assets against which the employee can execute his judgment. At the least, the employee cannot be held personally responsible for the medical expenses he incurred during the treatment of his work-related injury. The board explicitly stated, "medical providers shall bill the employer... and not the employee."
In some workers' compensation cases in which a direct employer lacks insurance coverage, it may be possible for the employee to pursue other remedies, such as a workers' compensation claim against an employer "higher up the food chain" (such as a general contractor, if the employee worked for a sub-contractor) or, if the situation allows, a negligence claim against a third party. The good news about a third-party lawsuit is that, unlike in workers' compensation cases, the employee can assert a claim for pain and suffering, and his or her spouse may be able to collect payment for loss of consortium.
Talk to an Experienced Georgia Workers' Compensation Attorney
Each workers' compensation case is unique and should be approached as such. In the vast majority of cases, the employer does have insurance, but this does not necessarily mean that the insurance company will approve a particular claim or pay all that the worker is due without a fight. Knowledgeable Atlanta workers' compensation lawyer T. Andrew Miller offers a free consultation to discuss how he can help you maximize the value of your work injury claim and pursue your benefits in an efficient manner.