Time runs out for worker to reclassify injury as catastrophic
Williams v. Conagra Poultry of Athens, No. A08A1854 (Ga. Ct. App. 01/28/09).
The Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the denial of a claimant's request for additional disability income benefits as being time-barred. The claimant received a change in her status to "catastrophic" after Georgia's statute of limitations period for requesting additional income benefits had expired.
What it means:
In Georgia, the statute of limitations for a change in classification from temporary total disability to catastrophic is two years.
The claimant injured her neck and shoulders while working at a chicken plant and received the maximum 400 weeks of temporary total disability benefits. The claimant requested to have her injury status changed to catastrophic so that she could receive additional income benefits. Her requests were twice denied, but the State Board of Workers' Compensation informed her that she could submit another request if she included information regarding her work restrictions. After she included the work restrictions, her third request for catastrophic injury designation was approved.
The employer and the claimant entered into an agreement in which the employer accepted the claim's designation as a catastrophic injury for medical benefits only. However, the employer challenged the claimant's entitlement to additional income benefits because the two-year statute of limitations for filing for benefits had expired. An administrative judge determined the claimant was not entitled to the additional income benefits she requested because the two-year statute of limitations had run on her catastrophic injury designation.
Under Georgia's law, weekly income benefits are capped at 400 weeks from the date of injury except if the injury is categorized as being "catastrophic." If an injury is categorized as catastrophic, a claimant can potentially receive the additional benefits indefinitely.
The claimant argued that her income benefits claim was not barred because to fall within the statute of limitations, she would have to experience a "change in condition" as also specified under Georgia law. The Court of Appeals explained that a "change in condition" is defined in another provision of the law as including a change in the "status of an employee" that occurs after her status was last established by award or otherwise. The court determined the claimant's third request for a catastrophic injury designation constituted a request for a change in status.
Since the third request for a change in status occurred more than two years after the last payment of income benefits for TTD was made, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's holding that the claimant's request for additional income benefits was properly time-barred.
March 12, 2009
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