Georgia Employee May Not Sue Employer for Negligent Denial of Medical Care Following Injury

A Georgia employee’s negligence claim against his employer for allegedly denying him access to medical care and insurance coverage following an injury in a vehicular crash is barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act, held a state appellate court [Savannah Hospitality Servs. v. Ma-010 Scriven, 2019 Ga. App. LEXIS 272 (May 23, 2019)]. Acknowledging the disagreement between the employee and employer as to whether the employee’s injuries sustained in the vehicle accident had occurred in the course and scope of the employment, the appellate court stressed that the real issue centered on the employer’s alleged conduct after the accident. If the employment contributes to aggravation of a pre-existing injury, it is still an accident under Georgia’s workers’ compensation law, and is compensable, thus triggering the exclusive remedy defense [see OCGA § 34-9-11(a)].

Background

The facts of the case were complex but, in essence, the employee, who served as a maintenance worker and airport shuttle driver, suffered injuries in a car accident when the vehicle he was driving was struck by another vehicle. The employee and his wife filed a civil complaint against multiple parties, including the employer, contending in relevant part that the employer was negligent in failing to provide him with access to medical insurance coverage after the accident, and that this failure exacerbated his injuries and led to his suffering multiple strokes.

The employer moved to dismiss the cause of action on the ground that it was barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the Georgia Act. The trial court refused to dismiss the claim and the employer appealed.

Exacerbation of Prior Injury is New Accident

The appellate court stressed that in order for a cause of action to be covered by the exclusivity provision, and for an injury to be compensable under the Act, the employee’s injury must (a) occur in the course of the employment, and (b) arise out of the employment. The court acknowledged that the parties disputed whether the employee was acting in the scope of the employment at the time he was injured in the auto accident. That was not, however, the salient issue.

Instead, the relevant event was the aggravation of those injuries by the employer’s alleged negligence in failing to provide access to medical insurance coverage when requested, and precluding the employee from seeking a professional medical opinion. The court observed that solid case law in Georgia supported the notion that aggravation by continued work of a previous injury was a new accident. Moreover, the negligence of delaying medical treatment thereby exacerbating a prior compensable injury was a form of accident covered by the Act. The court stressed that if the employment contributed to aggravation of a pre-existing injury, it was an accident under the state’s compensation law, and was compensable; it was not necessary that there be a specific job-connected incident which aggravates the previous injury.

Because there was undisputed evidence that the alleged injury arose out of and in the course of the employment, the Act applied, and the employee’s claims were barred. The trial court erred in failing to dismiss the claim.

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