Court: Workers’ comp penalty payments may still be due 10 years later

Suffering a work-related injury can be a frightening experience for anyone. Not only must the injured employee have to deal with the day-to-day rigors of rehabilitating from his or her injury, but in many instances, financial concerns stemming from the loss of a paycheck can be even more worrisome. Thankfully, for workers in Georgia, many of the financial fears related to on-the-job injuries are alleviated, or at least lessened, due to Georgia workers' compensation benefits.

Late workers' comp payments in Georgia

Essentially, the main reasons workers' compensation benefits were created were to help injured workers recover and also meet their financial obligations during the time they are unable to work. Importantly, those who qualify for workers' comp benefits are entitled to their payments in a timely manner - after all, what good are the benefits if they are provided too late in order to pay bills.

In fact, Georgia law expressly states that workers' compensation benefits shall be paid "promptly" to the injured worker. If the benefits are not paid when due, then a 15 percent penalty payment, in addition to the benefit payment, must be paid by the employer to the injured worker. However, if the benefit payment is more than 20 days past due, the penalty payment to the worker increases to 20 percent.

Interestingly, a recent Georgia Court of Appeals case determined that injured workers may be entitled to these penalty payments as long as their claim was originally filed in a timely manner - even if the worker doesn't ask for the penalty payments until 10 years later.

Specifically, the case - Reid v. Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority - revolved around an incident in which a worker suffered a work-related injury, and thus became entitled to temporary total disability payments. However, of the 32 benefit payments made by the employer to the injured worker, 12 were late under the workers' compensation law. Subsequently, 10 years later, the injured worker requested that the employer pay the late-payment penalties owed to him under the law.

Initially, the employer refuse to pay stating the request for the late-payment penalties were untimely give the 10-year time gap. However, the court ultimately reasoned that since the worker filed his initial workers' comp claim within the one-year required time limit, then he was still able to collect penalty payments 10 years later.

The court stated that any "absurdity" in allowing the pursuit of these penalty payments 10 years after the fact is due to the legislature's failure to address the issue - which means it is up to the legislature, and not the court, to amend.

This particular decision illustrates just how complex workers' compensation laws can be in Georgia. Consequently, if you have been injured on the job and are currently involved in your own workers' comp dispute, it is often best to seek the counsel of an experienced workers' compensation attorney. A skilled attorney can review the circumstances of your injury and help ensure your rights are protected.