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Big Changes at the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation

April 30, 2013

By: Christopher A. Whitlock

The Year of 2013 is proving to be a year of change at the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation. The composition of the Board has already seen additions and alterations, and a new legislative package, to be signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal, will be bringing numerous changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act as of July 1, 2013.

First and foremost, former chairman of the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation, Richard Thompson, stepped down in February of 2013 to return to private practice. Governor Deal replaced former Chairman Thompson with Frank McKay. Chairman McKay is a workers’ compensation practitioner from the Gainesville, Georgia area who has experience in representing both employers/insurers as well as injured workers in workers’ compensation cases. Governor Deal also appointed Judge Elizabeth Gobeil as a director for the Full Board; she is replacing former Director Warren Massey. Judges McKay and Gobeil will be joining existing Director Stephen Farrow on the Appellate Division. Judge David Imahara has been elevated to Chief Administrative Law Judge of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation.

Several big changes are also in store for employers/insurers and injured workers with the new legislative package that is awaiting signature from Governor Deal.

Non-catastrophic medical treatment cap. The State Legislature has approved placing a cap on medical benefits for non-catastrophic injury claims for 400 weeks from the date of injury for all injuries occurring after July 1, 2013. Accordingly, if an injured employee’s injury is not deemed catastrophic, then the employer/insurer’s responsibility for ongoing medical treatment will cease at the expiration of the 400-week cap. This cap on medical treatment does not affect injuries occurring on or before July 1, 2013.

Attempt at light-duty. The Legislature also amended O.C.G.A. § 34-9-240 regarding an employee’s attempt to perform suitable light-duty work. The Legislature added the requirement that the employee must attempt a light-duty job for “eight cumulative hours or one scheduled workday, whichever is greater” prior to the employer/insurer’s requirement to automatically reinstate benefits for an unsuccessful attempt to return to work. If the employee does not attempt the job for this minimal time period, then the employer/insurer may unilaterally suspend the employee’s disability benefits.

Accelerated mileage reimbursement. The Legislature also accelerated the time for employers/insurers to pay mileage reimbursements to injured workers. The new statute provides for 15 days from receipt to make timely reimbursements.

Increased weekly benefits. The Legislature has increased the amount of weekly temporary total disability benefits from $500.00 per week to $525.00 per week and increased the maximum temporary partial disability benefits from $334.00 per week to $350.00 per week.

The cap on 400 weeks for medical benefits and the minimal time requirement for an injured worker attempting a light-duty job offer is a significant advancement for employers/insurers in the workers’ compensation arena. On the other hand, the shortened 15-day time requirement for processing mileage reimbursement requests may present a challenge for claims adjusters to investigate and process mileage reimbursement requests in a timely manner. The year 2013 should be an exciting year with the new changes in the Appellate Division as well as the new legislative changes for the Workers’ Compensation Act.

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