If a worker is injured in a workplace accident in Georgia that makes performing the duties of his or her regular job impossible, the worker’s authorized treating physician may release him or her for light duty work instead. If the worker tries the light duty job and is unable to perform even those duties because of his or her work injury, the employer may request a hearing to determine a change in condition for the better, in an attempt to discontinue the worker’s income benefits. In the context of workers’ compensation, change in condition comes into play after benefits are being or have been paid to a claimant, in cases in which an employer wishes to terminate the worker’s benefits. If you have suffered injuries caused by a workplace accident in Marietta or Metro Atlanta and you have questions about “change in condition,” contact our experienced workers’ compensation lawyers at Rechtman & Spevak today.
Workers’ Compensation “Change in Condition” Defined
Under Georgia workers’ compensation laws, a change in condition is defined as “a change in the wage-earning capacity, physical condition, or status of an employee or other beneficiary covered by this chapter, which change must have occurred after the date on which the wage-earning capacity, physical condition or status of the employee or other beneficiary was last established by award or otherwise.” Although there are no limits to the number of change in condition claims an employee or employer can file in Georgia, there is a time limit. For workplace accidents in Atlanta that occurred on or after July 1, 1990, the employee must file a claim for a change in condition within two years of the date the last payment of income benefits was actually made, or within four years of the last payment if the benefits sought are only permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits.
Change in Condition for the Better
If an Atlanta injured employee has not returned to work, the employer bears the burden of proof to show that the employee’s condition has changed for the better, thereby giving the employer the right to suspend income benefits. The employer can provide this proof of a change in condition for the better by showing the following:
- The claimant has actually returned to gainful employment;
- The claimant’s disability is not causally connected to the on-the-job injury; or
- The claimant has the ability to return to work and suitable employment is available.
If, however, the authorized treating physician has released the employee to work with restrictions, the employer offers suitable employment within the restrictions, and the employee refuses to attempt the job, the employer is allowed to suspend benefits. In this case, the burden of proof shifts to the employee to prove that he or she is entitled to a reinstatement of benefits.
Change in Condition for the Worse
In situations where the employee has returned to work in Georgia or where the authorized treating physician has released the employee to work without restrictions, it is the employee who bears the burden of proof to show that he or she is entitled to continue receiving income benefits. The worker can meet this burden of proof by showing that he or she suffers from total physical disability or partial physical disability combined with economic disability. To prove an economic change in condition for the worse, the employee must show that his inability to gain suitable employment was proximately caused by his previous on-the-job injury. In order to prove an economic change for the worse, a worker must prove the following:
- That he has suffered a loss of earning power;
- That he diligently, but unsuccessfully sought employment;
- That he continues to experience physical limitations because of the work-related injury; and
- That his inability to secure gainful employment was proximately caused by his work injury.
An injured worker in GA may be entitled to reinstatement of disability benefits even if he has quit, been terminated for just cause unrelated to the accident, been laid off for reasons unrelated to the workplace accident, or been terminated due to his own misconduct.
Our GA Workers’ Compensation Attorneys Can Help
Workers’ compensation laws were established in Georgia to protect the rights of workers injured in on-the-job accidents across the state. Unfortunately, some employers use workers’ compensation laws as a means to terminate the life-saving benefits injured workers need to pay for medical bills and make up for lost wages due to missed days at work. If you or a loved one has been injured in a workplace accident in Marietta and your benefits are at risk for termination, contact our workers’ compensation attorneys at Rechtman & Spevak to discuss your legal options. Our law firm is located in Atlanta, and our workers’ compensation lawyers will fight for your right to receive the workers’ compensation benefits you deserve for your on-the-job injuries.