In 2017, according to the Department of Labor, there were 7,332 workers’ compensation claims in the state of Georgia. Many of these claims were due to a work-related illness. In industries such as construction, mining, aerospace, and other professions, Georgia workers may have been in contact with hazardous dust, fibers, chemicals, fumes, machinery, and noise.
What Are the Most Common Occupational Illnesses and/or Injuries in Georgia?
If you work in Georgia, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits due to a occupational disease caused by your work environment. Exposure in your Georgia workplace may cause:
- Bloodborne Pathogens
- Chemical, radiation, or lead poisoning
- Industrial-related skin conditions or asthma
- Mesothelioma or other Respiratory Disease
- Neurological Problems.
In addition, repetitive movements or stress can lead to chronic health problem such as:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Chronic Pain Syndrome
- Golfer’s Elbow
- De Quervain Syndrome
- Tennis Elbow
- Trigger Finger
How Can I Prove My Occupational Disease was Work-Related?
If you are employed in Georgia, you must make sure that your injury or illness is documented in the Occupational Injury Illness and Classification System or (OIICS). According to OIICS, you must be able to prove at least one of the following:
- Your illness or injury occurred as a direct consequence of being exposed to a hazardous substance in your work place;
- Your condition was caused by exposure in the workplace and not in another location;
- Your condition developed while you were employed at that location and is not a disorder which is common among the general public
- Your illness or injury was caused by factors within your workplace
- The origin of your illness or injury was directly related to your workplace risk factors.
You should also note that cardiovascular disease, hearing loss, psychiatric or psychological disorders normally are not considered to be work-related. However, as with everything, there are exceptions and you may be able to receive Georgia workers’ compensation benefits under specific conditions.
What Does Georgia Workers’ Compensation Benefits Cover?
The workers’ compensation benefits you may be entitled to in Georgia include:
- Medical Expenses for your work-related occupational disease
- Two-thirds of your weekly wages
- Possible continuation of weekly benefits up to 400 weeks
- Temporary Partial Disability
- Permanent Partial Disability
- Permanent Total Disability
- Mileage Reimbursement
- Vocational Rehabilitation
- Death Benefits
- Funeral Expenses
Why Can A Georgia Claim for Workers’ Compensation Benefits Be Denied?
It’s quite common for workers’ compensation claims to be denied in Georgia, especially in cases that involve an occupational disease or injury. Some of the reasons your benefits may be denied include:
- Your employer doesn’t have adequate insurance coverage
- The insurance company believes your occupational illness or injury doesn’t qualify for benefits
- That you intentionally suffered the injury
- The illness or injury occurred secondary to misconduct such as being under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication
- The injury or illness took place while trying to harm someone else
- Another employee caused your disease for personal reasons
- You suffered a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event.
In Georgia, we have two types of claims that can be deemed compensable. Workers’ compensation injuries and workers’ compensation diseases. Workers’ compensation injuries are the typical injuries one might think of when they think of workers’ compensation claims. A specific injury that arises “in the course of” employment and also “arises out of” employment. There must be a causal connection to the work being performed and the employee must be reasonable expected to be in the course of his or her duties.
An injury arises out of “the employment” when “a reasonable person, after considering the circumstances of employment, would perceive a causal connection between the conditions under which the employee must work and the resulting injury.” Hennly v. Richardson, 264 Ga. 355-356(1994). It arises “in the course of” employment when it occurs within the period of employment, at a place where the employee may be in the performance of his duties and while he is fulfilling or doing something incidental to those duties.” Id. See also O.C.G.A. § 34-9-1.
However, in Georgia there is a separate category for occupational diseases. O.C.G.A. § 34-9-280. This is a narrowly defined statute. It requires five elements of proof. Specifically, it provides that there must be a direct causal connection between the conditions under which work is performed and the disease, that the disease follows a natural incident of exposure by reason of the employment, that the disease must to have appeared to have its origin and a risk connected with the employment and to have flowed from that source as a natural consequence. In other words, it must be shown that the disease actually came from work. Further, the disease cannot be one to which the general public is exposed. Synalloy Corp. v. Newton, 254 Ga. 74 (1985). The seasonal flu, for example, is not unique to the workplace and not compensable occupational disease under the statute.
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Keep in mind that if your Georgia workers’ compensation claim is denied, that you can complete form WC-14 if your claim is denied and return the document to the address provided on the bottom of the form.
If your claim is denied again, you can request a further assessment of your claim. The first process will involve mediation, which could be followed up with a workers’ compensation hearing. Next would be an appellate review by the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation.
You should consult an experienced Georgia workers’ compensation lawyer who specialized in occupational diseases or injures. The workers’ compensation lawyers at The Gearhart Law Group can help you navigate the maze of Georgia workers’ compensation laws that apply to your claim and fight hard to get you the benefits you deserve.