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Lamentations of a Judge

Burdine & Brown March 26, 2024

The Georgia Legislature bowing to the pressures of the employers and insurers and self-insureds have held the workers’ compensation weekly disability benefits artificially low. Furthermore, the powers that be in Georgia hold tight to the level of compensation benefits for the workers. They use any attempt to increase the workers’ compensation disability rate as a bargaining chip to take away a vested right of the workers as a tradeoff.

What is the better way to pay the injured worker when a person is injured and required to draw weekly disability benefits? The workers’ weekly benefit rate should be tied to the Department of Labor’s average wage for Georgia workers WITH an automation cost of living increase yearly.

Assume for a moment you are at work, and you collide with a person carrying a very large package. You fall, injuring your low back and neck causing a herniated disc in both your neck and low back area.

Your injury claim is accepted. You cannot work. You start to draw workers’ compensation benefits from a workers’ compensation insurance company. The only problem is now your salary of $2,000 per week as a computer programmer for the State of Georgia ($104,000 salary per year) is reduced to 2/3 of your salary BUT the Georgia Legislature has capped your workers’ compensation wages at $800/week/

You now suffer a $1200/week wage loss during which time you wait agonizingly for surgery and a recovery.

I just finished reading an article in the Georgia Bar Journal, February 2024, where the President of the Georgia Bar is lamenting that the salary for the judges in Georgia does not keep pace with inflation. He further laments that the judges in Georgia do not get paid what the lawyers generally get paid who practice in their courtrooms.

He states: “Looking into the future, judicial compensation must keep pace with increases in the cost of living, and in Georgia, it historically has not. For instance, in my 10 years of judicial service at the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, my annual compensation in real dollars decreased by nearly $20,000. Year after year, the buying power of my judicial salary was diminished by inflation, and as my children entered high school, started driving and began to look at colleges, the continuing diminution of my compensation became an increasingly apparent problem for my family. It eventually led me to retire from judicial service and return to private practice of law. I am quite certain that my story is not a unique one among Georgia judges.”

Interestingly is that you don’t hear the State Bar President addressing the hardship that an injured worker’s goes through once disabled from an injury that was not his/her fault. Mr. Delcampo is quick to state he had to leave his job as a superior court judge because he did not want to take his children out of private school. Certainly, judges in Georgia are inadequately paid and the Georgia Legislature ought to boost their salary using inflation as a continuing way to prevent a real loss of income. But I do wish that he and others in a position of power and influence would recognize that the injured worker, who most likely provides many of the goods and services he and his family enjoys daily, would help to take up the cause of the disabled worker and advocate for a decent wage with built in increases. This would “lift the boat” of our hard working laborers and prevent the business and insurance interests from using the low disability wages as a means to extract yet another meager right from the worker as a tool for their less than humanitarian purposes.