Can a Workers’ Willful Misconduct Bar Completely a Claim for Job Injuries?
The law in Georgia reads: “No compensation should be allowed for an injury or death due to the employer's willful misconduct.” (OCGA § 34-9-7 (A).)
So what is willful misconduct? The Georgia Supreme Court gave three (3) examples on a decision in 2017.
Safety rules violations amounting to willful misconduct by an employee must be actions that are intentional and deliberate AND must be done with the knowledge that it will likely result in injury, OR with a wanton and reckless disregard of its probable consequences OR that it will probably result in an injury.
This definition is multi-faceted meaning that an employer or insurer must prove all these parts of the definition of willingness to win their case.
The law of workers' compensation in all 50 states is called a no-fault law. The employer/insurer gives up their right to assert fault and the injured worker gives up their right to sue the employer for full damages including pain and suffering.
The willful misconduct statute is the first successful attempt on the part of the employer/insurer to chip away at the “no fault” aspect of the law of workers' compensation.
This exception is seemingly logical and easily understandable but will not be the end of the employer/insurer's desire to bar other conduct, less clear and less deliberate.
In a 2018 case, the employee stuck his hand into a running machine to clean it after being told numerous times not to do so and after watching numerous videos of why not to do so. It seemed to be a pretty clear case of stupidity. But others will follow as will the legal battles. The facts will determine the outcome. For now, this defense to workers' compensation benefits is rarely employed.
So, if your injury is caused by a violation of a safety rule and nothing more, you should prevail in court with a good fight. Negligence is much different from willful misconduct.