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A History of Workers' Compensation: Why We Have What We Have


Workers' Compensation is by far one of the most misunderstood administrative law systems our great nation has adopted. People are always asking me what do I do as a Georgia workers' compensation attorney and why do we have a workers' compensation system in the first place. To help clients and the run-of-the-mill inquiring mind I may meet at a party or at the gym understand, I try to explain to them the history of workers' compensation along with the purpose and public good the workers' compensation system serves for Georgians. 

Prior to the enactment of the Georgia Workers' Compensation Act, the only way employees could recover from the negligent acts of their employer was through a formal lawsuit. Employers would argue the employee assumed the risk by taking the job or was partially to blame for the accident. In the majority of the cases, the employee lost. When the employee did win, the damages were often so costly many businesses could not afford to pay for the damages caused to the employee and simply went out of business. The employee was often left with disabilities, damages, and lost wages. The employers, when they did lose, would file for bankruptcy or dissolve. The results were often bad for both Georgia employees or employers.

Recognizing the dilemma, several states starting enacting workers' compensation laws based on those enacted in European countries during the Industrial Revolution. In 1920, the Georgia Legislature passed the first comprehensive workers' compensation legislation to allow employees to recover for medical benefits, lost wages, permanent disability, and death benefits sustained as a result of injuries occurring on the job. Both the employer and the employee essentially had to compromise in that workers' compensation is a 'no fault' system, meaning the employee can recover regardless of who is at fault in most cases; however, monetary caps on how much the employee could recover were put in place in order to protect Georgia employers. Insurance companies saw an opportunity to make money, and began writing workers' compensation policies.

Other restrictions were put into place in favor of the employer in exchange for a no fault system. For instance, the employer is required to post a panel of physicians the employee must choose his or her doctor from, the amount of lost wages an employee can recover each week is capped at two thirds of his or her average weekly pre-injury wage, the employer still has the option to controvert or deny a claim if they do not believe the injury or occupational disease occurred on the job, etc. The workers' compensation laws are constantly changing, as lawyers and judges across the State of Georgia continue to hammer out the details in an effort to provide a system that is fair to employees and employers.

Today, Title 34, Chapter 9 of the Official Code of Georgia is the Georgia Workers' Compensation Act. We also have, as a supplement to the Georgia Workers' Compensation Act, a set of Board Rules issued by the Georgia State Board of Workers' Compensation. The Workers' Compensation Act has several defenses employers and insurance companies can use to avoid paying for the benefits the employee may be entitled to when they are injured on the job. Additionally, there are hundreds of cases interpreting the Georgia Workers' Compensation Act and Board Rules that only an experienced workers' compensation attorney will be fully aware of. Navigating the Georgia the system with an attorney who only dabbles in workers' compensation or by representing yourself pro se can be a dangerous venture. Often the adjuster who handles the claim on behalf of the insurance company does not always tell the employee all of their rights in order to prevent their company from losing money. Insurance adjusters will also offer lump sum settlements to unrepresented employees that are far under the true value of the case. Do not be deceived by the commercials you see about responsibility and doing what is right. The insurance industry is not your advocate or your friend.

History is important to understanding how we got to where we are and why it is important to have an experienced workers' compensation attorney to handle your case. It is a complicated area of the law and retaining an attorney that understands the system is critical. I encourage you to give me a call and see the difference for yourself.

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