By: Denise Dawson, Esq. Firefighters, police officers and other first responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will qualify for a full array of workers’ compensation insurance benefits effective Oct. 1, 2018, under a bill that Gov. Rick Scott signed into law, at the Tampa Firefighters Museum on March 27, 2018. Three Central Florida first responders who were at the Pulse shooting in June 2016 were instrumental in getting the legislation approved. The legislation will cover people who make a claim after October 1, 2018, as long as the triggering event was within the prior year. That means that the Parkland school shooting first responders could be covered, but the responders at the Pulse nightclub would not. The measure was also a top priority for Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who serves as the state’s fire marshal. Rep. Matt Willhite (D) sponsored the bill. His full time job is…       Read More

By: Dale Slemons, Esq. Georgia’s House Bill 249 , which was signed into law by Governor Deal last year, has put new teeth into Georgia’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). Specifically, the law shifts control of Georgia’s PDMP from the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The law further requires that by January 1, 2018 every prescriber who has a DEA registration number be enrolled as a PDMP user. If a prescriber obtains a DEA license after January 1, 2018 they must enroll within 30 days. Prescribers may delegate their authority to check the PDMP to up to two members of their medical staff. However, for a prescriber to delegate this authority to an unlicensed or unregistered staff member, the staff member must submit to an annual registration process that will administered by the Georgia Board of Pharmacy. The law requires a mandatory PDMP…       Read More

By: Dale Slemons, Esq. As you know, one of the most important avenues to control the medical costs and overall exposure of your workers’ compensation claims is to utilize the control given to Employers by O.C.G.A. 34-9-201, which requires that the Employer maintain a valid Panel of Physicians. As you may know the statute requires that you list at least six physicians or professional associations or corporations of physician who are reasonably accessible to the Employee, among other additional requirements. While we recommend periodic verification of your Panel providers be part of your routine, we also like to inform you when information is obtained that may invalidate your Panels. In that regard, we wanted to take this time to let you know that Dr. Rick Hammesfahr, of The Center for Orthopedics & Sports Medicine has retired effective March 14, 2018. If you have Dr. Hammesfahr listed individually on your Panel…       Read More

Written by: Lissa F. Klein, Esq. The Court of Appeals chipped further away at the “idiopathic fall” defense and overruled a key case concerning this defense in the recent decision of Cartersville City Schools v. Johnson, A17A1469 (March 16, 2018). By way of background, the claimant in Johnson was a teacher who was instructing her students when she walked to her desk to put an image up on a smartboard. She then turned from her desk to walk back to the front of the classroom and in the process of doing so, fell and injured her knee, eventually requiring surgery. A hearing took place at the administrative level on the issue of whether the claimant’s injury arose out of her employment or was the result of an “idiopathic” fall and thus not compensable. The administrative law judge held that the injury was compensable, finding that the claimant’s “swift movements,” as well…       Read More

Written by: Michael E. Memberg, Esq.  The individuals who can claim workers’ compensation death benefits under Georgia law are defined by O.C.G.A. § 34-9-13. With respect to a surviving spouse, parent, or child of a deceased employee, the process to establish dependency and entitlement to death benefits is rather straightforward. However, O.C.G.A. § 34-9-13(d) also provides the opportunity for other individuals to claim death benefits as either a total or partial dependent. In such cases, the level of dependency is a question of fact to be determined by the ALJ. Taken at face value, O.C.G.A. § 34-9-13(d) appears to allow any individual to claim dependency status. However, the Georgia Supreme Court specifically prohibited individuals from claiming dependency status, even if they were in fact dependent on the deceased employee, if they cohabited with the deceased employee without being married. Williams v. Corbett, 260 Ga. 668 (1990). This prohibition is based…       Read More

Written by: Kawania James, Esq. When an injured worker is not forthcoming about his condition, it could lead to an Employer/Insurer unnecessarily paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for a work injury that has resolved or an alleged disability that never existed. Often times Employers and Insurers will utilize investigative methods, such as surveillance and social media searches, to uncover the activity of an injured worker that he elects not to disclose. One investigative method that is gaining popularity in the world of litigation is the request for information stored in wearable fitness devices. The development and use of wearable technology (i.e. smart watches, smart glasses) and fitness/activity trackers (i.e., Fitbit, Garmin) is on the rise. These devices are designed, in part, to monitor and track fitness data such as steps taken, calories burned, sleep patterns, etc. Likewise, many people use apps such as the MyFitnessPal and Runkeeper app to…       Read More

By: James G. Smith, Esq. In a decision handed down this week, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a notable “win” for Employer/Insurers in a case that has made its way through the courts over the past several years (Ocmulgee EMC et. al. v. McDuffie). Specifically, the Court found that an employer need not show the availability of suitable employment to justify the suspension of benefits after already establishing that the Claimant’s work-related aggravation of a pre-existing condition has ceased to be the cause of the Claimant’s disability. It is also with pride that we note that attorneys Fred Hubbs and David Dix, both partners in our Atlanta office, represented the Employer/Insurer in this case. As for the facts of the case, the Claimant was hired by the Employer in 2007. He subsequently injured his right knee in 2009 and it was accepted as compensable. However, he had previously sustained…       Read More

Written by: Byron K. Lindberg, Esq. Tennessee is one of only a handful of states that does not recognize certification of workers’ compensation adjusters; but that may be about to change. On August 29, 2017, the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation held a Rulemaking Hearing discussing, among other things, a proposed Adjuster and Adjuster Entity Certification Program. The stated purpose of the proposed new rule and new program is to assure employees are treated fairly and that claims are handled appropriately and uniformly. The proposed new program garnered healthy participation and comments at the August 29, 2017 hearing. Proposed curriculum/training requirements for certification included: overview of the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act; general insurance principles; compensability issues; fraud; medical billing codes; medical terminology and abbreviations; cost control; available benefits; ethics. In addition, the proposal would allow adjusting entities (i.e., third party administrators, insurance companies) to become designated as certified adjusting entities through…       Read More

Written by: Rayford Taylor, Esq. The First District Court of Appeal recently considered an appeal in the case of Julio Jiminez v. UPS, Case No. 1D16-4959, involving a challenge to Section 440.12(2) Fla. Stat. (2014). That statute sets the cap on the maximum weekly compensation rate. The merits of the challenge were not addressed by the Appeals Court because the case was sent back to the Judge of Compensation Claims (“JCC”) for further development of the record. Florida appears to be the latest state to challenge the existence of a statutory cap, or limitation on the maximum amount payable as a weekly compensation rate. This challenge is similar to a recent challenge filed in Alabama challenging its version of the maximum compensation rate. That Alabama case is known as Clower v. CVS Caremark Corp. The trial judge there found the weekly maximum compensation rate of $220.00 to be unconstitutional. The…       Read More

Written by: James G. Smith, Esq. Georgia law provides special rules for determining whether a hernia injury is compensable. I have had a several hernia cases recently, and in each case, the “heavy lifting” of defending the claim undoubtedly takes place in the initial moments or discussions when the alleged hernia is reported to the employer and/or insurer. It is critical to ask the proper questions at the outset to determine whether the injury is compensable under Georgia law. For starters, the law requires states that for a hernia injury to be compensable, an injured worker must demonstrate that the hernia resulted from an accident sustained in the course and scope of his or her employment. Additionally, there are four other requirements which must also be demonstrated by the injured worker: (1) The hernia must have appeared suddenly; (2) the hernia must have been accompanied by pain; (3) the hernia…       Read More