As a Georgia personal injury lawyer, I find that many of my clients have
been hurt on the job, and the employer (usually through a workers’
compensation insurance company) has paid some of their medical bills.
My clients are often surprised when I tell them that at the end of their
personal injury case, the employer or the workers’ compensation
insurance carrier will be standing there with its hand out, demanding
that the clients hand over the money they just got. The employer will
demand that my personal injury client repay all the medical bills and
lost wages that the employer had paid in the first place.
The employer or insurance company’s statutory claim for repayment
is called a lien, or a subrogation lien. I am starting a series on the
subrogation lien that workers’ compensation carriers have when they
have paid a client’s medical bills.
I often represent
personal injury clients who were hurt by someone’s negligence, and the injury happened to
occur while the client was working. For example, I represent car accident
victims, and one of my car accident wreck clients was hurt when someone
ran into the daycare van she was driving. In fact, I have had several
clients who were hurt while they were driving a company vehicle –
be it bus, van or car — for work purposes. In my role as a product
liability lawyer, I represented a delivery driver who was badly burned
while she was driving a Dodge van that her company had rented for her
to use. The Dodge van was hit from the rear, and exploded into flames.
Its gas tank had been located in the very rear of the vehicle, and had
no metal frame rail to protect it in a collision. In another of the cases
I handled as a product liability attorney, my client had lost his hand
when it was pulled into a defective carpet manufacturing machine while
he was working at a carpet manufacturing plant. Another client had a product
liability case because his leg was shattered when it was pulled into a
defective carpet tufting machine at work.
All of these clients had one thing in common: they were hurt on the job
and the employer or its workers’ compensation insurance company
had paid some of their medical bills. When my clients filed suit, the
employers and insurance carriers claimed that if my clients recovered
anything for their injuries, the clients needed to pay them back for every
penny they had paid for the employee’s medical care, lost wages,
or other compensation.
Georgia law does provide that an employee should not be paid twice for
the injury; if a third party was responsible for the employee’s
medical bills, then the workers’ compensation carrier does not have
to pay the employee a second time for the exact time for the exact same
medical bills. The Georgia Code gives a workers’ compensation insurance
company the right to intervene in a case, and to demand repayment of the
amounts it paid for the injured worker.
O.C.G.A. § 34-9-11.1.
But the underlying purpose of the workers’ compensation statute is
to make sure that the employee is fully cared for: “The statute
was enacted to allow an employer to recover the amount of workers’
compensation benefits paid out, but a primary legislative concern was
that the injured employee first be made whole.” N. Bros. Co. v.
Thomas, 236 Ga. App. 839, 841 (Ga. Ct. App. 1999). The purpose of the
statute, then, is to make sure that when workers are hurt physically on
the job, they do not end up getting hurt financially as well.
To accomplish that purpose, the Georgia code restricts the circumstances
when an employer (or its insurance company) can demand that the employee
pay back all the money the employer paid out. In my next posts, I will
discuss those limitations.