2007 Legislative Updates

The following bills affecting workers' compensation passed during the 2007 session of the Georgia General Assembly. For more information concerning these bills, please go to the Georgia General Assembly's web site at www.legis.ga.gov.

HB 424 (2007 Workers' Compensation Bill)

O.C.G.A. §34-9-2(a):

(a)(1) As used in this subsection, the term 'farm laborer' shall include, without limitation, any person employed by an employer in connection with the raising and feeding of and caring for wildlife, as such term is defined in paragraph (77) of Code Section 27-1-2.
This chapter shall not apply to common carriers by railroad engaged in intrastate trade or commerce; nor shall this chapter be construed to lessen the liability of such common carriers or take away or diminish any right that any employee of such common carrier or, in case of his or her death, the personal representative of such employee may have under the laws of this state; nor shall this chapter apply to employees whose employment is not in the usual course of trade, business, occupation, or profession of the employer or not incidental thereto; nor to farm laborers or domestic servants; nor to employers of such employees; nor to any person, firm, or private corporation, including any public service corporation, that has regularly in service less than three employees in the same business within this state, unless such employees and their employers voluntarily elect to be bound; nor to any person performing services as a licensed real estate salesperson or associate broker who has a written contract of employment providing that he or she shall perform all services as an independent contractor.

O.C.G.A. §34-9-100:

(a) Subject to Code Section 34-9-82, a claim for compensation may be filed with the board at any time following an injury or death. The board and its administrative law judges shall have full authority to hear and determine all questions with respect to such claims.

(b) The board shall make or cause to be made any investigation or mediation it considers necessary and, upon its own motion or application of any interested party, order a hearing thereon and assign the claim to an administrative law judge for review. Furthermore, the board may direct the parties to participate in mediation conducted under the supervision and guidance of the board.

(c) Any application for hearing filed with the board pursuant to this Code section, on or after July 1, 1985, but prior to July 1, 2007, for which no hearing is conducted for a period of five years shall automatically stand dismissed.

(d)(1) For injuries occurring on or after July 1, 2007, any claim filed with the board for which neither medical nor income benefits have been paid shall stand dismissed with prejudice by operation of law if no hearing has been held within five years of the alleged date of injury.
(2) This subsection shall not apply to a claim for an occupational disease as defined in Code Section 34-9-280.
(3) The form provided by the board for use in filing a workers´ compensation claim shall include notice of the provisions of this subsection.

(e) Any claim, notice, or appeal required by this chapter to be filed with the board shall be deemed filed on the earlier of:
(1) The date such claim or notice is actually received by the board; or
(2) The official postmark date such claim or notice was mailed to the board, properly addressed with postage prepaid, by registered or certified mail or statutory overnight delivery.

O.C.G.A. §34-9-200.1(a):

(a) In the event of a catastrophic injury, the employer shall furnish the employee entitled to benefits under this chapter with reasonable and necessary rehabilitation services. The employer either shall appoint a registered rehabilitation supplier or give reasons why rehabilitation is not necessary within 48 hours of the employer´s acceptance of the injury as compensable or notification of a final determination of compensability, whichever occurs later. If it is determined that rehabilitation is required under this Code section, the employer shall have a period of 20 days from the date of notification of that determination within which to select a rehabilitation supplier. If the employer fails to select a rehabilitation supplier within such time period, a rehabilitation supplier shall be appointed by the board to provide services at the expense of the employer. The rehabilitation supplier appointed to a catastrophic injury case shall have the expertise which, in the judgment of the board, is necessary to provide rehabilitation services in such case.

O.C.G.A. §34-9-202(a) and (e):

(a) After an injury and as long as he claims compensation, the employee, if so requested by his or her employer, shall submit himself or herself to examination, at reasonable times and places, by a duly qualified physician or surgeon designated and paid by the employer or the board. Such examination may include physical, psychiatric, and psychological examinations.

(e) Notwithstanding the rights afforded an employee under Code Section 34-9-201, the employee, after an accepted compensable injury and within 120 days of receipt of any income benefits, shall have the right to one examination at a reasonable time and place, within this state or within 50 miles of the employee´s residence, by a duly qualified physician or surgeon designated by the employee and to be paid for by the employer. Such examination, of which the employer or insurer shall be notified in writing in advance, shall not repeat any diagnostic procedures which have been performed since the date of the employee´s injury unless the costs of such diagnostic procedures which are in excess of $250.00 are paid for by a party other than the employer or the insurer. Such examination may include physical, psychiatric, and psychological examinations.

O.C.G.A. §34-9-205:

(a) Fees of physicians, charges of hospitals, charges for prescription drugs, and charges for other items and services under this chapter shall be subject to the approval of the State Board of Workers´ Compensation. No physician, hospital, or other provider of services shall be entitled to collect any fee unless reports required by the board have been made.

(b) Annually, the board shall publish a list by geographical location of usual, customary, and reasonable charges for all medical services provided under subsection (a) of this Code section. The board may consult with medical specialists in preparing said list. Fees within this list shall be presumed reasonable. No physician or hospital or medical supplier shall bill the employee for authorized medical treatment; provided, however, that if an employee fails to notify a physician, hospital, or medical supplier that he or she is being treated for an injury covered by workers´ compensation insurance, such provider of medical services shall not be civilly liable to any person for erroneous billing for such covered treatment if the billing error is corrected by the provider upon notice of the same. The board may require recommendations from a panel of appropriate peers of the physician or hospital or other authorized medical supplier in determining whether the fees submitted and necessity of services rendered were reasonable. The recommendations of the panel of appropriate peers shall be evidence of the reasonableness of fees and necessity of service which the board shall consider in its determinations.

(c) Any party requesting peer review pursuant to the provisions of this Code section shall pay to the board such filing costs for peer review as established by the board; provided, however, that the prevailing party in any peer review request shall be entitled to recover its filing costs, if any, from the party which does not prevail.

O.C.G.A. §34-9-261:

While the disability to work resulting from an injury is temporarily total, the employer shall pay or cause to be paid to the employee a weekly benefit equal to two-thirds of the employee´s average weekly wage but not more than $500.00 per week nor less than $50.00 per week, except that when the weekly wage is below $50.00, the employer shall pay a weekly benefit equal to the average weekly wage. The weekly benefit under this Code section shall be payable for a maximum period of 400 weeks from the date of injury; provided, however, that in the event of a catastrophic injury as defined in subsection (g) of Code Section 34-9-200.1, the weekly benefit under this Code section shall be paid until such time as the employee undergoes a change in condition for the better as provided in paragraph (1) of subsection (a) of Code Section 34-9-104.

Amend O.C.G.A. §34-9-262:

Except as otherwise provided in Code Section 34-9-263, where the disability to work resulting from the injury is partial in character but temporary in quality, the employer shall pay or cause to be paid to the employee a weekly benefit equal to two-thirds of the difference between the average weekly wage before the injury and the average weekly wage the employee is able to earn thereafter, but not more than $334.00 per week for a period not exceeding 350 weeks from the date of injury.

SB 131 (2007 Subsequent Injury Trust Fund Bill)

O.C.G.A. §34-9-358:

Each insurer and self-insurer under this chapter shall, under regulations prescribed by the board of trustees, make payments to the fund in an amount equal to that proportion of 175 percent of the total disbursement made from the fund during the preceding calendar year less the amount of the net assets in the fund as of December 31 of the preceding calendar year which the total workers´ compensation claims paid by the insurer or self-insurer bears to the total workers´ compensation claims paid by all insurers and self-insurers during the preceding calendar year. The administrator is authorized to reduce or suspend assessments for the fund when a completed actuarial survey shows further assessments are not needed. An employer who has ceased to be a self-insurer prior to the end of the calendar year shall be liable to the fund for the assessment of the calendar year. Such employer who has ceased to be a self-insurer shall continue to be liable to the fund for assessments in subsequent calendar years so long as payments are made on any workers´ compensation claims made while in self-insured status. The initial assessment of each insurer or self-insurer for the purpose of generating revenue to begin operation of the fund shall be in the amount of one-half of 1 percent of the workers´ compensation premiums collected by the insurer for the preceding calendar years from an employer who is subject to this chapter or the equivalent of such in the case of a self-insurer.

This Act shall become effective upon its approval by the Governor or upon its becoming law without such approval and is intended to authorize the Subsequent Injury Trust Fund to continue to make assessments against employers who were formerly self-insured and later obtained workers´ compensation coverage. It is not intended to authorize assessments for time periods prior to the effective date of this Act.