• Recent Case Law Update
  • June 22, 2009 | Author: Robert D. Johnson
  • Law Firm: Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers, LLP - Atlanta Office
  • Clarke v. Country Home Bakers, et al
    In Clarke v. Country Home Bakers, et al, the Court of Appeals addressed whether a work release participant should be considered an “employee” as defined in O.C.G.A. § 34-9-1. A08A2032 (Ga. Ct. App. October 17, 2008). The claimant was halfway through a prison sentence when he volunteered to participate in a work release program with Country Home Bakers. While working, he suffered a significant fall resulting in hospitalization. Thereafter, he stayed in the prison infirmary until he was paroled. The insurer paid workers’ compensation benefits until notified by the Department of Corrections the claimant was incarcerated. When the claimant was paroled, he filed a hearing request seeking temporary total disability benefits. The ALJ denied his claim, finding the claimant was not an “employee” who is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits as defined by O.C.G.A. § 34-9-1. The Superior Court affirmed. The Court of Appeals also affirmed relying on the specific language of O.C.G.A. § 34-9-1(s), which states inmates or persons participating in work release programs are not considered an “employee” as defined under the Act while participating in work or training, or while going to and from the work or training site.

    Williams v. Conagra Poultry of Athens
    The Court of Appeals addressed whether a request for a catastrophic designation was a “change in condition” and thus subject to the statute of limitations in O.C.G.A. § 34-9-104(b) in Williams v. Conagra Poultry of Athens. A08A1854 (Ga. Ct. App. January 28, 2009). The claimant was injured in 1992 and received TTD benefits from the employer for the maximum 400 weeks which expired in April 2001. She then applied for catastrophic designation twice, in August 2002 and April 2003, and was denied both times. She applied for the third time in September 2003 and was approved. The employer requested a hearing appealing the administrative designation and the ALJ ruled the claimant was not entitled to additional income benefits because she did not submit her request within the two-year statute of limitations in O.C.G.A. § 34-9-104(b). The Court of Appeals upheld the ALJ’s findings, confirming a catastrophic designation is a “change in condition” within the meaning of O.C.G.A. § 34-9-104(a) and thus, a request for additional income benefits, by catastrophic designation or otherwise, must be brought within two years of the last payment of TTD or TPD benefits.

    Dekalb Board of Education v. Singleton
    The Court of Appeals in Dekalb Board of Education v. Singleton addressed the compensability of a psychological injury triggered by asthma. A08A1181 (Ga. Ct. App. October 17, 2008). The claimant worked as a bus driver and on August 8, 2005, she suffered an asthma attack after exposure to fire extinguisher residue and cleaning products on her bus. She received medical treatment for an exacerbation of her pre-existing asthma. In December 2005, after she had been released to return to work, she complained of fears for her safety and the childrens’ if she returned to work as a bus driver. She was diagnosed with adjustment disorder, anxiety and depression by several psychologists and she was terminated by the school board for abandonment of her job. She was awarded workers’ compensation benefits based on a psychological injury by the ALJ, which was upheld by the Full Board and the Superior Court. The ALJ found the psychological condition compensable based on the holding of Southwire v. George, 266 Ga. 739, 741 (1996) finding the asthma attack contributed to the continuation of the psychic trauma and also precipitated the psychic trauma.

    The School Board appealed contending the Board and Superior Court failed to apply the correct legal standard for determining whether a superadded psychic injury is compensable when there is no major psychic disability, the original psychic injury quickly resolved and there were no subsequent consistent complaints of major psychic trauma. The School Board relied on the Court’s decision in ITT Continental Baking v. Comes, 165 Ga. App. 598, 599 (1983) that the claimant only suffered from mild depression, such that her psychological condition was not compensable. The Court of Appeals upheld the Board and the Superior Court’s decision reasoning there was evidence the psychic problems were not “mild” but constituted real fears based on medical evidence in the record.

    For more information on these cases contact Bobby Johnson at 404.888.6207 or [email protected]