by Alissa C. Atkins, Esq.
In a decision released on June 6, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court denied ongoing indemnity benefits to a man whose injuries were previously designated as catastrophic pursuant to OCGA § 34-9-200.1(g)(2). The claimant sustained an injury in 1993 resulting in a below the knee amputation. He returned to work in January 1994 with a prosthetic, and continued working until the company was sold and he was laid off 18 years later. He later sought to have TTD benefits reinstated by the first insurer, or in the alternative by the insurer who covered the new employer against whom he sought to claim a fictional accident.
The Court held in Roseburg Forest Products Co. et al. v. Barnes (2016) that the claimant’s right to benefits was barred under the two year statute of limitation in OCGA § 34-9-104. Because he waited 18 years to file, he sought benefits 16 years too late against the first insurer. The second insurer defended on the grounds that the claimant had not filed his new claim within the one year statute of limitation set forth in OCGA § 34-9-82.
Therefore, both arguments were denied and the claimant was not entitled to benefits. This is a key decision for Georgia workers’ compensation defense because claimant attorneys generally argue that once a claim is designated as catastrophic, the protections of OCGA § 34-9-104 no longer apply and the claimant should be entitled to receive indemnity benefits for life. This is incorrect, and this case can be used as proof. However, one unfortunate result of this case is that claimants may be less likely to return to work in catastrophic claims if they are concerned that by doing so they may jeopardize their right to future benefits.