Employer argues statute of limitations prevents a filing of a claim for a job injury
I had the privilege of representing a lovely lady who worked 19 years for a “big box store” in Metro Atlanta. She was a laborer responsible for continuous stacking, sorting, moving, pushing, pulling, and loading and unloading of merchandise both coming into and exiting this company.
18 years into this employment found her needing medical treatment. Her employer authorized her to get treatment NOT under workers' compensation, the logical and lawful system for her treatment, but using her personal physician and group insurance. She treated for about 9 months with injections, therapy and medicines. She remained at work, doing the best she could. She was released by her doctors with the last physician telling her she could come back and have surgery if she wanted to “go that route”. My client declined that option. She continued to work.
During year 19 at the same company she got to the point where she could just go on no longer with her job. It was too painful to work. Her leg pain was simply unbearable.
She came to see me. I sent her to her family doctor with a job description of the strenuous duties she was performing daily and had been performing for the last 19 years. Her doctor took her out of work for a week, citing her job duties as the reason to cease work. The doctor ordered a low back MRI. The employer wanted my client back at work at the end of the week but when the MRI results were read, the family doctor referred my client to a neurosurgeon for an evaluation.
The employer terminated my client stating that the statute of limitations for filing a workers' compensation claim in Georgia was one year form the date of injury. The employer asserted that the date of injury was almost a year ago when she first started receiving medical care from her group insurance doctors. We argued that she sustained an aggravation of a pre-existing condition because she kept working until she saw her family doctor. On the day the family doctor took my client out of work was the day we used as her new injury date/aggravation.
After deposition testimony from my client and from two of the employer representatives, plus mounds of medical evidence the case was heard by an Administrative Law Judge at the State Board of Workers' Compensation.
One of the critical findings in this claim turned on the word “injury”. The Judge stated in his Award that “Injury under the Workers' Compensation Act means that the employee need not be in perfect health when working for an employer. Every employer takes the employee as they are. As such, if an employee has a pre-existing condition, work may “aggravate” a pre-existing condition… and an aggravation of a pre-existing condition is considered a work related injury.” (Para. 20, Award)
The Judge did not “buy” the statute of limitations argument of the employer. He awarded my client benefits because she kept working for the same employer and finally just “gave out”. The Judge called this the aggravation.
I find the employer's assertion very troubling. How could a person work 19 years and still wind up with an employer who denies the workers' low back problems as not related to her work? Admittedly, had my client been hired and worked only 6 months or less (an arbitrary number here) and then complained of an aggravation of a pre-existing condition, I would have had a much more difficult time proving her current job and not her past work of many years was the cause of her back problems. But not in this case. 19 years, one job.
The insurance folks delayed and denied our hearing to fish for old medical records. They found none. They suggested a small settlement “to get some money into my client's hands.” I will admit that most lawyers would find this very tempting to take because they would do no more work on the case and receive 25% of the lump sum settlement. I did not do that. I counselled my client on the best strategy, what was at stake (the need for major back surgery) and over a year's worth of back pay due benefits. The right way was to fight, to pursue the matter to the courthouse. This is the way I do things.
This was a very gratifying case to handle. My client is grateful that we did not “cave in” for a little bit of settlement money. Having won every aspect of her claim in the Award from the Judge, my client is now on the road to medical health. And while her weekly disability benefits are certainly less than her salary while at work, she does receive regular payments until her health returns as part of the Judge's Award. This is all a big relief for a person who gave probably 25% of her entire life to a company to do what they directed her to do.
If you know of someone who is “barely making it” at work, who is trying desperately to keep working so as to draw a salary check and not be forced inti filing a workers' compensation claim without any guidance, tell them to contact me to explain their situation. I might be able to help them. You never know until you inquire.
Practice area(s): Workers Compensation