Category Archives: Types of Work Injuries

Can I file a repetitive use injury under workers’ comp in GA?

Yes, Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws provide for coverage of such injuries.  We frequently see carpal tunnel injuries from repetitive motion at work, but there are other injuries that can result from this activity, too (we’ve seen it several times with shoulders and knees, for example).  For such cases, workers comp attorneys usually use the last day the injured worker was able to work before having to stop to get surgery as his date of accident when filing the claim.  In face, we signed up such a case today.

In that case, the client was concerned, since his employer told him to use his health insurance and borrow from his 401k instead of using the employer’s workers’ comp insurance, because “it’ll be better for the company.”  Now, the employer is griping about how high his health care insurance will be in 2015, having forced his employee to use it for multiple surgeries that should have been covered by workers’ compensation last year.  He’ll be even more distraught when he receives the hearing request we’re filing today, along with discovery requests and a request to take his deposition.  In the future, perhaps he’ll do the right thing when an employee hurts himself at work and reports it immediately–file an incident report and notify the workers’ comp carrier.

Run away when the workers’ comp adjuster offers $7,000 immediately after your husband has died

I have a client whose de facto husband–with whom she had two sons–died in a roofing accident.  Under the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act, the sons can receive the workers’ compensation benefits at the weekly rate to which he would be entitled had he lived (2/3 his average weekly wage up to the $525 per week current cap) until the youngest child reaches 18, or even until he reaches 22 if he continues his education.  There’s also a $7500 burial allowance that should be paid immediately.

Very shortly after this man died, however, a field adjuster for Amerisafe Risk Services showed up at the widow’s door and asked if they would just settle the entire workers’ compensation claim for $7,000.  The widow hardly speaks English; she and her de facto husband were both from Mexico and spoke Spanish.  Luckily, a good neighbor (a real one, not someone from State Farm) was there at the house, translated, and then conveyed the horror at such an obvious “low ball” and insulting offer immediately after her loved one’s death.  The adjuster quickly multiplied by 10 and offered $70,000.  Luckily again, the widow chose to seek legal counsel instead of accepting this dollar figure.

That was two years ago.  The family has been paid the weekly workers’ compensation benefits to which they’re entitled ever since the fatal accident.  The remaining exposure for these weekly benefits is just under $500,000.  Had the widow accepted the racist adjuster’s in-person offer, she would have forfeited over $550,000 and likely would have had to go on government assistance to raise her two small children instead of letting the workers’ comp system do that for which it was designed.

So, if the breadwinner in your family dies at work, and an adjuster shows up at your house to offer some money to close out the entire claim on the spot, will you take it?  Please say “no.”  Especially if you have a language barrier issue.

How much does workers’ comp in Georgia pay for scarring?

I have a couple current clients who suffered severe burns as part of their injuries at work.  One has 4th degree burns after being run over by a taxi cab (from the continued rotating tire against her skin); the other has 3rd degree burns after a boiling water mishap in the company kitchen.  Both, as you can imagine, had excruciating pain.  Both have had skin grafts and will have permanent scarring.  Sadly, neither the pain nor the scarring will directly increase the value of their workers’ compensation claims.

I’m fairly certain no state allows for payment of pain and suffering damages in a workers’ comp claim, as such would, in part, defeat the purpose of limiting tort liability and exposure to employers if such damages were allowed.  Naturally, Georgia is no different.

Regarding disfigurement and scarring, however, states vary, but Georgia is one of the few states that does not allow recovery for scarring/disfigurement as part of a permanent partial disability (PPD) rating.  O.C.G.A. 34-9-263 (and Board Rule 263) is the relevant statute addressing PPD benefits.  As far as Georgia case law goes, the case styled Nowell v. Stone Mtn. Scenic R.R., 150 Ga.App. 325 (1979) expressly held that our state does not allow workers’ compensation benefits for nondisability producing disfigurement (emphasis added).

Thus, the answer to the question posed above is zero.

Temporary Workers Face Higher Risk of Workplace Injuries

Olga Pierce, Jeff Larson, and Michael Grabell of ProPublica, a non-profit organization that provides high-quality, investigative journalism, brought some disturbing facts about temporary work to light in an article titled “Temporary Work, Lasting Harm.”

According to ProPublica’s analysis of workers’ compensation claims across the United States, temp workers in high-risk states like California and Florida are 50% more likely to be injured on the job than permanent employees. Worse still, the nature of the injuries suffered by temp workers are far more serious. A review of workers’ comp claims in Florida revealed that temps were more likely to suffer severe trauma, such as fractures, punctures, and crushing injuries.

Why this startling discrepancy in the rate of injury?

When a permanent employee is injured, companies find themselves paying higher insurance premiums and footing the bill for medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering. When a temporary worker is injured, the recruiting agency pays for any workers’ comp, leaving the company with no incentive to properly train its workers and enforce safety procedures.

And that’s the best case scenario. In many instances, the temp firm and the company fight over who should pay workers’ comp costs, delaying the delivery of vital medical care until the issue is resolved.

If we know all of this, why aren’t lawmakers working to protect temp workers? It’s not for lack of trying. Concerned policymakers find that they are hard-pressed to make any real changes because there simply isn’t enough evidence. Although it tracks most industries, the federal government doesn’t keep tabs on injury rates for temporary workers.

There is progress—but it comes at a price. Rather than enacting proactive safety policies, many companies who hire temp workers often scramble to enforce life-saving measures after tragedy strikes—and after “business as usual” takes a financial toll.

If you’ve suffered an injury at the workplace, contact Georgia workers’ compensation attorney Michael Moebes at (404) 354-5432 for a free consultation.

 

Can exotic dancers get workers’ compensation benefits in Georgia?

Dancers in the adult entertainment industry are almost guaranteed to be classified by their employers as independent contractors for both tax purposes and workers’ compensation in Georgia. However, just because your boss tells you your injury does not qualify for workers’ comp–because you’re an independent contractor — doesn’t meant it’s true. Sometimes — and I’m sure this is hard for many people to fathom — business owners lie in order to avoid a possible increase in insurance premiums!

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With this particular legal issue, the key component to analyze is the degree of control exerted over the supposed employee by the employer.  In order to gauge the level of control, several questions should be asked to figure out whether a “strip club” entertainer would qualify for workers’ comp if injured at work during a performance.  In a case I recently handled, we analyzed the factors laid out in a local (and fairly recent) federal court decision regarding whether nude dancers from the Onyx Club in Atlanta qualified as employees or independent contractors.  A few are analyzed below.

At most strip clubs, a “house mom” has a great deal of control over the dancers.  For example, she may control what the dancer wears (or doesn’t wear), her makeup, her hair, her shoes, her level of coherence (or intoxication), her hours, her song(s) played, her stage (assuming multiple stages), her VIP clientele, etc.  The club may also require splitting of tips with the DJ, bartenders, and other “house” expenses.  Her stage name may be dictated by the club.  Perhaps financial penalties are imposed for not coming to work during slow shift or when otherwise scheduled.

More than likely, there are several other posted rules and regulations that govern the behavior of the entertainers at a nightclub and make them appear more as employees than as independent contractors.  Violators of such rules can be disciplined, to include suspension or termination.

Again, the key issue to analyze is the level of control exerted over the would-be employees.  While several industries are known to use independent contractors instead of employees, I’ve found that strip clubs seem to work the hardest to so classify their employees when, in all actuality, they put quite a bit of control over those who perform within their hallowed halls.  Think you might have a case against your nightclub employer?  Feel free to call our Atlanta law firm for a free consultation and analysis.  You might be surprised to learn your options aren’t as limited as you’ve been told.

What’s the difference between acute and overuse workplace injuries to shoulders and knees?

We’ve covered quite a few injuries now in the ongoing series of articles about the kinds of injuries that our practice handles for workers’ compensation clients. Today I’d like to discuss knee and shoulder injuries. Obviously, those joints are crucial to any physical activity, work or otherwise. Simply put, without healthy knees and shoulders, the arms and legs aren’t getting much done.

Injuries to the shoulders and knees are common workplace occurrences, especially if the work is physically demanding. The level of pain and the treatment necessary for both joints vary widely, so it is important to have a clear understanding of the issue with which you are dealing and get appropriate medical attention.

Injuries to these major joints fall into two categories: acute injures and injuries from overuse.

Acute injuries are those that occur suddenly, like from an impact or an accident. Acute injuries to the knees and shoulders could be caused by direct blows, falls, or abnormal twisting or bending. These types of injuries are the most common to the knees and shoulders.

Acute injuries to the knee include:

  • Sprained or strained ligaments or tendons (as discussed in my article on sprains and strains)
  • Torn meniscus, which cushions the knee joint
  • Torn ACL or MCL, which is the most common
  • Fracture
  • Dislocation, which could be very serious, requiring immediate medical attention

Acute injuries to the shoulder include:

  • Bruises (contusions)
  • Sprained or strained muscles, ligaments or tendons
  • Brachial Plexus Neuropathy (injured nerves)
  • Separation, which is when the ligaments connecting the clavicle (collarbone) to the acromion (shoulder blade) are torn
  • Torn rotator cuff, which is when one or more of the four tendons that cover the shoulder joint are damaged
  • Fracture
  • Subluxation or dislocation, which when the bones are pushed or pulled out of position

The results of these injuries can include pain, bruising, swelling, and damaged or pinched blood vessels or nerves while possibly leaving the area weak, numb, cold, tingling, pale or blue. Clearly, even when the exact cause of the injury is known, there are many possible outcomes with an acute injury so a medical evaluation is essential. An injury left untreated can often lead to long-term complications.

The other type of knee and shoulder injury often associated with the workplace is that of overuse. Repetitive movements and prolonged stress can put too much pressure on the joints and surrounding tissue. In the case of overuse injuries there isn’t usually a single moment that you remember the injury happening as the symptoms come on gradually.

Overuse knee injuries include:

  • Bursitis, which is inflammation of the small sacs of fluid that provide the knee with cushioning
  • Tendinitis or tendonosis, which is inflammation of or small tears in the tendons
  • Plica Syndrome is a thickening or folding of the ligaments
  • Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome causes pain in the front of the knee
  • Iliotibial Band Syndrome is the inflammation of the tissue that runs down the outside of the thigh

Overuse injuries of the shoulder include:

  • Bursitis
  • Tendonitis or tendonosis
  • Strained muscles
  • Frozen shoulder, which simply implies limited movement
  • Impingement Syndrome, which is related to bursitis and rotator cuff tendonitis

These types of injuries present with a wide variety of symptoms and, similar to the acute injuries, require a professional medical diagnosis to ensure that they don’t remain as lingering issues. An evaluation generally consists of a physical examination coupled with an x-ray or MRI.

The treatment can be as simple as rest or as serious as surgery, but regardless of severity, issues with these two major joints should not go unattended. If you aren’t sure if your knee or shoulder injury falls under the responsibility of your employer contact a knowledgeable Atlanta worker’s compensation lawyer today.

I hurt my back at work and don’t understand what’s wrong with my spine!

Few injuries can have the pervasive effect of a back injury. The pain can be debilitating and invade everything you do. It isn’t until your back is hurt that you realize just how many movements are dependent upon it.

By the grace of your back go you.

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Back injuries are not just incapacitating, they are the most prevalent of all workplace injuries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million back injuries are reported every year, constituting 20% of all workplace injuries and illnesses.

The spine itself is separated into five regions: the cervical region (neck), the thoracic region (mid-back), the lumbar region (lower back), the sacrum, and the coccyx. For our purposes, we will focus on disc herniations in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine as these are among the most common injuries that we see as Atlanta injury lawyers and they can be some of the most painful.

The upper three regions of the vertebral column usually consist of 24 vertebrae separated by fibrous, spongy discs that hold the vertebrae together, allow for movement, and spread the load along the spine. Within the core of each disc is a jelly-like substance that distributes pressure evenly across the disc, acting essentially as a shock absorber.

The cervical region contains seven vertebrae and allow for movement of the head. The thoracic region is made up of 12 vertebrae that are less mobile, serving to hold the rib cage and protect the heart and lungs. The lumbar region has five larger vertebrae designed to bear the weight of the body, absorbing the stress of lifting and carrying heavy objects.

The discs between each of these vertebrae can degenerate from age or strain and prolapse, which means the jelly-like core that provides cushioning begins to squeeze out, or even rupture completely. This is a disc herniation. A loss of cushioning between the vertebrae results in compression that puts pressure on the local nerves, causing pain in the back or neck, numbness or tingling in the arms and fingers, or shooting pain down one or both legs. A severe prolapse can cause damage to the spinal cord itself.

Symptoms of a disc herniation vary depending on where on the spine it occurs and what nerve  root is being pushed. The symptoms can include:

  • Intermittent or continuous back pain
  • Spasms in the back muscles
  • Sciatic pain that originates in the lower back and radiates down the legs
  • Muscle weakness or numbness in the legs or feet
  • Poor reflexes in the ankles or the knees
  • Altered bladder and bowel function
  • Incoordination or difficulty with gait

Disc herniation can occur any number of ways in the workplace. Whether from slips and falls,  ladder accidents, car accidents or even from excessive bending, lifting, or carrying heavy objects, herniations can happen to anyone. Regardless of cause, a sound medical diagnosis is imperative. Diagnostic techniques begin with a physical examination and then can include CT scans, MRIs, discograms or myelograms. A proper diagnosis is vital to determining the proper treatment of the injury, which can range from bed rest to physical therapy to surgery.

Employers, of course, have a responsibility to ensure a safe working environment and, considering that, according to OSHA, one-quarter of all compensation indemnity claims involve back injuries, it’s logical that employers implement administrative and engineering controls in the workplace. Administrative controls involve proper testing, training and conditioning of employees while engineering controls address the safety of the job itself. Without the implementation of such controls, employers put themselves at risk of liability and their employees at risk of serious injury.

If you’ve suffered a back injury related to your employment, you’ll want to take care that you receive all of the benefits that you are entitled to as a Georgia employee. Contact our law offices to speak to a knowledgeable Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyer about your claim at 404-354-5432.

I slipped and fell at my Georgia job. Am I eligible for workers’ compensation benefits?

Last month I began writing about some of the various types of workers’ compensation injuries that can occur. Today I’ll discuss slip, trip and fall injuries.

The time to address slip, trip, and fall injuries is prior to an incident occurring. Employers have a responsibility to their workers to ensure that the workplace is not conducive to an accident. This means that they should have systems and procedures in place that emphasize safety and responsible behavior on the job. It also means that the work area should be free of of any obvious hazards to employees. All too often slips, trips, and falls at work are caused by an employer’s lack of vigilance in attending to these matters.

In the U.S., slip and fall injuries:

  • make up 15% of all workers’ compensation claims
  • account for more than 15% of all accidental fatalities
  • average $22,000 in workers’ compensation benefits per claim
  • are accountable for 65% of lost work days
  • are the third highest cause of workplace injuries
  • result in 31 or more days away from work in 22% of cases
  • are the single highest cause of emergency room visits
  • cost American businesses billions annually

They are also the most preventable accidents to occur in the workplace. Unfortunately, in their haste to cut costs, some employers don’t adequately address things that could keep employees safer.  For instance, implementing a slip resistant shoe program could cut slip and fall accidents by 50% in many places of employment. Regular safety inspections and area maintenance can catch hazards before an employee is affected by them.

Slipping, tripping, and falling could cause an injury as minor as a sprained ankle or one as serious as traumatic injury or death. All too often an employer will attempt to make a case that, though the employee was on the job, it was through some error of their own that they were injured. They may want to put you back on your feet far too soon, putting you at risk of serious re-injury if you’ve not had the proper time to heal.

The effects of some slip, trip, and fall injuries may be far-reaching and difficult to quantify early  on. It’s important for injured workers to have proper guidance by sharp physicians and an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. As Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys,  we have extensive working relationships with some of the best workers’ comp doctors in Georgia and want to make sure our clients get the benefit of the best possible attention, care, and financial help to which they’re entitled.

If you don’t feel like you’re getting a fair shake where your slip and fall injury is concerned, then call us at 404-354-5432. We want to help you.

I burned myself at work. Can I get workers’ comp benefits in Georgia?

Sometimes people who need the services of an Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyer don’t have a firm idea about what constitutes an actionable injury, or what injuries are covered. I’d like to begin addressing that. To help educate the people of our community who are seeking information, from time to time I’m going to discuss one of the injuries listed on our firm’s website.

Today I’d like to talk about work-related burn injuries.  Maybe “like to talk” is too strong a phrase, but I’ll write about it regardless.

One thing we all know is that no matter how minor they are or may seem, burns are a very painful sort of injury, and many times take their sweet time to heal.

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Burns have three different classifications to rate their severity: First-degree, second-degree, and third-degree. These are also known as superficial, partial thickness, and full thickness burns, respectively. A first-degree or superficial burn is painful, but only involves the outer layer of the skin, which is called the epidermis. The site of injury appears red, dry, and painful. Long-term tissue damage is rare with first-degree burns.

A second-degree or partial thickness burn will have blistering and can get into the dense bottom portion of the dermis, which is immediately below the epidermis. Second-degree burns can result in scarring and necessitate skin grafts in some cases.

Third-degree or full thickness burns will cause destruction of the epidermis and damage down to the hypodermis, into the bones, muscles, or tendons. Nerve endings are destroyed and the burn site appears white or charred. Grafts and repeated surgeries are likely necessary and performed in stages over time.

Workers’ compensation burn injuries can be tricky, because a lot of different variables come into play. How and under what circumstances was the employee burned? What was he or she burned with? Were adequate workplace safety precautions and practices set forth and observed by the employer? These things will be examined, and a good workers’ compensation attorney will know the questions to ask in seeking benefits for a burn victim.

Burn cases require a long view, as second- and third-degree burns will involve varying levels of ongoing care. Since all burn injuries and the people recovering for them are different, it may be difficult to determine what financial burdens may face a burn victim as a result of continuing treatment and surgeries. There are quality of life issues to be addressed (for instance, special garments), too. These add up to additional burden and expense on an injured worker.

Most severe burn injuries won’t be addressed overnight, and workers have the right to be compensated for injuries on the job in a way that makes sure needs that are encountered down the road are met. If you were burned in the workplace and would like to discuss your Georgia workers’ compensation case to make sure you are receiving every benefit you’re entitled to, give our offices a call. We are a firm well-versed in workers’ compensation, and we are sympathetic to your needs.

I slipped! I fell! Do I need a personal injury lawyer?

Our Atlanta law office recently got a phone call like this:
Him:  “I just busted my ass at the hardware store!”
Me:  “You brought your donkey to the hardware store?  Are you Amish?”

So you’ve slipped, you’ve fallen, and you’ve gotten up only to find yourself in a bad situation physically. Sometimes mere accidents turn into something bigger than the sum of their parts, and you may have to seek assistance from a property owner or business when you’ve taken a spill in their domain.

How are you supposed to proceed in these instances? What does the law expect of both you and the business or property owner? Further, what does Georgia state law do to both recognize and uphold your rights as a victim in a slip and fall situation? Is your injury claim a viable one?

Say you were walking along in a grocery store and you slip on a puddle of clear liquid, fall, and break your foot. Your doctor tells you that you will need surgery. The outcome of one trip to the market is far cry from the grabbing of some milk and eggs that you initially set out to do. It’s at this juncture that you might start to wonder, “I’m pretty seriously injured, here. What are my rights?”

Slip and fall laws in Georgia are pretty straightforward. The reason that you were on a property dictates the property owner’s obligation(s) to you. If you were trespassing, you don’t have a whole lot of rights. If you received an invitation to be there as a benefit to the owner  –which you are, where most retail establishments are concerned– then you are owed what is known as reasonable care, where the owner keeps the place you are visiting free from known and obvious hazards.

Secondly, Georgia laws want to know what you slipped or tripped on and whether or not the Defendant (property owner) had a greater knowledge about potential hazards than you did. This means that generally a Plaintiff should be able to recover damages caused by a fall, because it is typically assumed that a Defendant will have greater knowledge of circumstances and things that will cause a fall than a Plaintiff will.  You will need to prove either actual knowledge or constructive knowledge.

The former is exactly what it sounds like: Actual, concrete knowledge of a hazard (for example, observing it themselves). The latter is a bit more complicated, because constructive knowledge is assumed by the court if a) a Defendant doesn’t have evidence of a ‘reasonable’ inspection  process to comply with the understanding of their duty toward ordinary care and b) despite the exercising of ordinary care a Plaintiff had no knowledge of a hazardous situation because of actions or conditions within a Defendant’s control.

In short, a Plaintiff has to show both knowledge (actual or constructive) on the part of a Defendant as well as the fact that he didn’t learn of the hazard despite exercising reasonable care. There’s no pat answer as to whether or not you’ll be able to win on a slip and fall claim without seeking legal counsel or representation.

Reach out to our Atlanta injury lawyers’ office for our advice… that’s what we’re here for! We’ll answer your questions and guide you in any way we can.