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When Does Exclusivity Provision of Workers’ Comp Act Allow for Dismissal of Personal Injury Action?

If your car accident occurred while you were on the job, you may not be able to recover damages, because your exclusive remedy may be workers’ compensation benefits. In a recent Georgia car accident case, a plaintiff was injured and sued his employers and two individuals. He claimed the employers, for whom he worked as an airport shuttle driver and maintenance worker, were negligent in not letting him get medical care or insurance coverage. He argued that this delay exacerbated his injuries. The employer filed for a dismissal or, in the alternative, summary judgment. It argued that workers’ compensation was the plaintiff’s exclusive remedy. The lower court didn’t address the argument about exclusive remedy, but denied the motion to dismiss.

The case arose when the plaintiff’s car, owned by his employer, was reportedly struck by a car owned and driven by the individual defendants. The plaintiff was driving a car owned by his employer. When he sued, he claimed the employer was negligent in failing to give him access to medical insurance coverage, and this failure exacerbated his injuries and caused him to experience multiple strokes.

The employer answered and admitted the plaintiff was an employee, but then moved to dismiss the claims on the grounds that workers’ compensation was his exclusive remedy. The prior lawsuit he’d filed in 2015 against the employer had alleged an injury in the course of his employment. In interrogatories, he’d claimed he got into an accident when he was going back to work after picking up parts.

The lower court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss the negligence claim. It didn’t address the argument that the exclusive remedy was workers’ comp. The employer got a certificate of immediate review and argued to the appellate court that the lower court had made a mistake in denying its motion to dismiss since the fact that workers’ comp was the exclusive remedy stopped the civil action against it, including the plaintiff’s claim of exacerbating injuries. It also argued that the plaintiff had admitted in the prior lawsuit that the car accident happened in the scope of employment.

The appellate court agreed with the employer. It explained that the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act was meant to relieve hurt employees while safeguarding employers from excessive plaintiff’s recoveries. The Workers’ Compensation Act includes an exclusive remedy clause. Under OCGA § 34-9-11 (a), an employee is not supposed to face deprivation of the right to sue a third-party tortfeasor, except where it’s an employee of the same employer. This law gives an injured employee’s employer statutory immunity from lawsuits by employees to obtain damages other than workers’ compensation benefits. The statutory immunity from a lawsuit includes statutory employers irrespective of whether they paid benefits or not.

In order for a lawsuit to be covered by the exclusivity provision, an employee’s injury has to happen in the course of employment and arise from employment. OCGA § 34-9-1 (4) provides that “injury” can include an exacerbation of a preexisting condition by workplace accident. The accident may occur in the course of employment depending on the circumstances, place and time under which an accident takes place. Generally, it is a workplace accident if it happens during employment in a place where the employee can reasonably engage in doing his job. When something arises of out employment, there’s a causal link between the job and injury.

In this case, there was a dispute about whether the plaintiff was in the scope of his job at the time of his car accident injuries. The pertinent inquiry for purposes of the analysis didn’t have to do with the injuries suffered in the car accident. Rather the pertinent event was the employer’s aggravation of injuries through its negligent failure to give allow the employee to get medical insurance coverage and stopping him from asking for doctor’s opinion.

The court explained that aggravation of a preexisting condition is compensable even when the pre-existing injury isn’t related to the job. The appellate court looked at the circumstances, place and time, and determined the injuries happened in the course of the plaintiff’s job. Accordingly, the Act applied, and the court reversed.

Those who suffer injuries in a car accident in Atlanta or elsewhere in Georgia should consult Stephen M. Ozcomert. He is a tough and experienced car accident attorney with more than 20 years of experience. Call the firm for a free consultation at (404) 370-1000 or contact us through our website.