After you are injured at work, it’s important not to panic and make rash decisions. Stay calm and consider your options carefully.
If you are hurt at work here in Georgia, the workers’ compensation laws require that you report the accident and injury to your employer within 30 days of the injury date.
Please note: the 30-day countdown does not begin to run until you actually realize that you are injured, not necessarily from the actual date of your accident or the incident that may have caused the injury.
You are lifting boxes and you feel a “pop” in your back. You assume it is just a strain and will get better as you don’t feel much pain at the time of the popping sensation. Because you don’t think it is a big deal, you don’t mention it to your supervisor that day.
But a few days later, you start feeling stiffness, soreness, and pain shooting down your leg. This worries you, so you report the back injury to your supervisor.
In this example, the 30-day reporting requirement begins on the day you experienced the pain and when you first had a reason to believe you suffered a work-related injury, not the day you felt the popping sensation from lifting the boxes.
Your injury doesn’t have to be an immediate, acute incident to be covered under Georgia’s workers’ compensation system. An injury can also be sustained over a period of time, rather than an immediate, identifiable accident.
Some injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive use syndrome, occur over time. These types of injuries can take weeks or months to manifest to the point where the “injury” causes a worker to become disabled from performing their job.
In such cases, the actual “date of injury,” as well as the 30-day notice period, begins to run the date the injured worker stopped being able to work due to the injury.
Can Someone Else Notify an Employer of the Injury?
Notice of an injury can be given by the injured employee or by anyone acting as their “representative.” The injured worker can designate a person to notify the employer on their behalf, such as a spouse or family member. We often see this when the person is unable to communicate due to the severity of their injuries.
Who Do You Tell About the Work Accident and Injury?
Notice of your accident and injury should be given to your immediate supervisor. For example, if the injured worker is actually a supervisor, then they must still report the injury to their immediate supervisor.
Next Step: Filing a Written Claim
Once the accident is reported to your supervisor or someone in management at the job site, you should also file a written claim with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. This claim form lets the board know not only about your accident and injury but whether or not you are seeking any type of wage or medical benefits.
Different limitation periods apply during the different stages of a claim. But please remember: nothing can replace speaking with an experienced Georgia workers’ compensation attorney to determine what specific limitations may apply to your case.
When Must You File a Claim With the State Board?
In general, an injured worker has one year from the date of the accident to file a claim with the State Board. For example:
You are hurt at work and you immediately report the accident and injury to your supervisor. You never receive any medical treatment or workers’ compensation income benefits from the employer or insurer for your injuries. Six months later, the injury becomes more annoying and you decide to pursue treatment. However, the employer refuses to authorize any medical treatment because of the time that has passed since your injury.
Does the statute of limitations prevent you from filing a written claim with the State Board and seeking medical benefits from the employer?
NO! You reported the accident and injury to your employer in a timely fashion (within 30 days). Even though you did not ask to have medical treatment initially for your injury, you are still well within the one-year limitation period for filing the written claim with the State Board or Workers’ Compensation.
You can also file a notice with the State Board within one year from the last date of medical treatment.
If you never receive any wage benefits from the employer/insurer for your on-the-job injuries, this still doesn’t prevent you from being able to receive medical treatment. However, to preserve your claim, you must receive treatment from your workers’ compensation doctor at least once per year to keep your medical claims open and to prevent them from being barred by the limitations period.
You are treating with the workers’ compensation doctor for your on-the-job injuries. Meanwhile, you are still able to work as the employer is able to accommodate the work restrictions placed on you by the doctor. Since you are working, you have not received any income benefits.
Assume the last appointment with your workers’ compensation doctor was on May 23, 20XX, when the doctor released you from their care. On June 5 the following year, you call to make an appointment with your treating doctor because your injuries are once again bothering you. But when you call, the doctor’s office tells you that the workers’ compensation insurer has denied payment for any further treatment.
Is your claim barred by the statute of limitations from filing a written claim with the State Board?
YES. Because you were not treated by the workers’ compensation doctor in over a year since your last appointment date, your claim is barred due to the limitations period. If you had requested the appointment by May 22 of the following year, the claim for medical treatment would not have been barred, as this request would have been made before the one-year limitation period.
However, one other factor could affect the limitations period...
You can also file the notice with the State Board within two years from the date of payment of your last income benefit.
It is extremely important to understand that there is a time limitation on filing a written claim for workers’ compensation income benefits. You must file your written claim for income benefits within two years of the last receipt of workers’ compensation income benefits for the same work injury.
You hurt your back at work on May 23, 20XX. The doctor puts you on light-duty restrictions. However, your employer cannot offer any suitable light-duty work, so you are paid workers’ compensation wage benefits. You continue to receive these wage checks and you receive medical treatment until your employer decides to offer you suitable light-duty work.
On December 15 of the same year, you return to work at the warehouse and the employer/insurer stops your weekly wage benefits. You are able to work this light-duty job but you continue to see the workers’ compensation doctor for treatment. Over time, though, your back injury worsens.
On December 16, two years later, your authorized treating physician places you on Total Disability meaning you cannot work at all due to your back pain.
Are you entitled to workers’ compensation wage benefits at this time?
Typically, the answer is no because you have not received any income benefit payments for the same work injury in over two years.
Consult With an Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer
There are almost always exceptions to the rules. We highly recommended that you consult with a work injury attorney who is experienced in the workers’ compensation arena to accurately determine your rights under Georgia law.
Do not delay in this decision as failure to act could limit or completely bar your ability to pursue and receive your workers’ comp benefits.
At Gary Martin Hays & Associates, we certainly understand that you have questions about the process and why you want, need, and deserve answers right away. If you do not act in a timely fashion, you could risk losing your ability to receive any medical treatment or other benefits for your work-related injuries.
Call us right away at (770) 934-8000 to ensure you will not be denied these important benefits simply because you didn’t act quickly enough.
This post is based on an excerpt from Gary Martin Hays’ bestselling book The Authority On Workers’ Compensation Claims in Georgia.