When you file a workers' comp claim in Georgia, there are two processes that you may participate in. You may choose to settle if your compensation is fair and reasonable. In other situations, it may be necessary to go through a legal proceeding known as a "hearing." This article outlines the processes that you could face and explains the terms of the financial settlements.
Georgia workers' comp settlements come in two forms. A liability settlement is when the insurance company agrees to pay for your injury. There may be debate over how much you'll be awarded, but the accident and your injury aren't in question.
The more complicated settlement is a non-liability settlement. Here, your eligibility for workers' comp is in question. This could occur because the accident or your injury is in dispute. Though a workers' comp attorney is typically encouraged for most claims, if you're facing a non-liability settlement, you definitely need an attorney to navigate the paperwork and evidentiary requirements.
The settlement process can be as quick as you'd like, to an extent. If the initial offering from the insurance company is sufficient, you can accept right away. We do, however, encourage you to wait until you feel as though you're healed enough to give this big decision full consideration.
If you have any doubts or questions, we suggest that you first consult a Georgia workers' compensation attorney. Simply tell the insurance company that you wish to speak with your lawyer before agreeing to any compensation.
If you refuse the total offered by the insurance company for whatever reason, then the claim becomes a legal proceeding. Evidence is collected and a hearing may be necessary. At this point, a workers' comp attorney becomes a necessity.
All workers' comp claims must be approved by the Georgia Board of Workers' Compensation. Though it's not encouraged that you do so, you can change your mind about your workers' comp settlement even if you've signed paperwork to accept the amount. Once you receive Board approval, however, the decision is considered final.
Whether you plan to accept a settlement or your claim moves to a workers' comp hearing, Georgia law allows both parties to schedule formal questioning via depositions. Your workers' comp lawyer may depose a witness to your accident or your supervisor regarding what happened and how your claim was processed, for example.
In turn, your employer's lawyer is likely to ask you to sit for a deposition to discuss the accident and how your medical treatment is progressing. The attorney could also ask you about your medical history, previous injuries, and your daily activities after your accident.
Depositions take place in a lawyer's office or a neutral space such as a hotel conference room, so they're less formal than a court hearing. Even though this isn't a trial, you're still under oath and what you say can be used against you in a workers' comp hearing. It's important to prepare for your deposition by meeting with your lawyer ahead of time so you have an idea of what questions will be asked and how to prepare.
If you refuse a settlement for workers' comp, then you may have to attend a workers' compensation hearing. A hearing is similar to a trial, but the rules are different for workers' comp. There's no jury, so it's referred to as a "bench trial."
At the hearing, both parties present their information to the judge. You're the "plaintiff" or "claimant," and the defense is usually an attorney and a representative from your employer and the insurance company. After the lawyers present brief summaries of the case, the trial goes "on the record" and a court reporter records what is said.
In most cases, you'll have to testify under oath about your injury and the accident. After your attorney interviews you, you will be cross examined by the defense. You may present any witness statements and documents demonstrating what happened and the extent of your injuries. Your attorney may also present evidence to justify why attorney fees should be included as part of your settlement.
When your attorney is finished, the other attorney presents your employer's side of the story by calling their own witnesses such as supervisors or other employees. The attorney may submit competing medical documents or other evidence to try and minimize your injury and/or the accident. Once both sides have presented to the judge, the case goes "off the record."
Unlike regular trials, a Georgia workers' comp hearing doesn't end with a verdict. Instead, the parties' attorneys draft closing briefs to the judge which summarize their positions and restate what their evidence proved. After the judge reads those briefs, they make a judgment and determine how much workers' comp you are owed by your employer.
Like any other legal proceeding in this country, you have the right to appeal a workers' comp decision that occurred via a hearing, mediation or arbitration. With only 20 days to file, however, the paperwork must be completed quickly.
Additionally, it's worth mentioning that a written legal brief and 5-minute oral argument is all your attorney has to try and win your compensation. With that in mind, it's important that you pick a highly qualified Georgia workers' comp attorney to manage this difficult task.
Whether you receive a settlement or a judge determines how much workers' comp you'll receive, your payment typically comes in a lump sum. Workers' comp payments are NOT taxable, so you'll be paid the full amount minus attorney and legal fees.
For more serious injuries with permanent damage, workers receive what's known as a "structured settlement." These settlements are mostly awarded to employees who can no longer work at their former position or may not be able to work at all. Instead of a lump sum, these payments are given each month—annually or every few years.
It's important to mention that workers' comp payments are "full and final settlements." This means you can't try to change your payment total if your condition worsens later on. As a result, it's best you speak to legal and medical professionals before committing to a total from the insurance company.