2019 Changes to Workers’ Compensation in Georgia
Tuesday, July 30th, 2019
Traditionally, on July 1 of each year, all bills passed by the Georgia Legislature during the prior session and signed into law by the governor go into effect. This year, several major changes to workers’ compensation in Georgia went into effect.
Increases in Maximum Weekly Benefits Payable
The most noticeable change, which will have an immediate impact on injured employees as well as the costs of workers’ compensation to employers and insurers, is a considerable increase in the maximum weekly benefits payable for lost time from work. Georgia law provides that when an employee is either completely disabled from work or their employer cannot provide them with suitable light duty work, they are entitled to temporary total disability (TTD) benefits, which are paid at a rate of two-thirds of their pre-injury average weekly wage. The maximum rate in Georgia rose by $100 to $675 per week, which is the largest increase in 20 years. Although the increase is certainly something injured workers in Georgia should be happy to receive, Georgia’s disability rate remains among the lowest in the country.
Consistent with the increase in the TTD rate, the maximum benefits payable to a surviving spouse in the event of a fatal accident also grew. The maximum benefit is now $270,000.
Additionally, the maximum temporary partial disability (TPD) rate increased. TPD benefits are paid to an injured worker when they have returned to work following the accident, but they are receiving less than they made prior to the injury. Benefits are capped at two-thirds of the difference between their pre- and post-injury pay up to a maximum of $450. This is an increase of $67 per week from the pre-July 1, 2019, rate.
Changes to Payment of Medical Treatment and Expenses
Finally, there is a consequential change related to payment of medical treatment and expenses to injured workers. In 2013, a major change took effect limiting the time period for which injured workers could receive medical treatment to 400 weeks from the date of their injury. Previously, it had been uncapped and injured workers were entitled to lifetime medical care. This change was controversial and advocates for injured workers have continuously fought to change the limitation ever since it took effect six years ago. In 2019, they finally got their wish.
Effective July 1, 2019, an employee’s medical treatment is still capped at 400 weeks, unless the injury is deemed to be “catastrophic,” a designation reserved for the most serious of injuries. However, if the injured worker receives some kind of durable medical equipment or device, such as a prosthetic, spinal cord stimulator or pain pump (although this list is not meant to be exhaustive) within the initial 400 weeks, they are entitled to replacement and maintenance of that item for life. This provision of the law was applied retroactively to all claims after July 1, 2013. The retroactive portion of this change has received the most attention as it potentially opens the door for much more substantial exposure for medical treatment on claims that were nearing the end of the 400-week period. Generally speaking, laws that are considered to be procedural in nature can take effect retroactively, while those with a substantive impact cannot be applied retroactively. In light of the significant impact of the retroactive application of this law, there may be litigation over whether the law is procedural or substantive in nature. However, pending any such action, this provision is in effect at this time.
The changes to the disability benefit rates and medical treatment requirements will have a vast impact on injured workers in Georgia, as well as employers and insurers. Please contact a workers’ compensation attorney should you have any questions regarding these changes and their impact on the workers’ compensation system in Georgia.