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2015 Legislative Update

May 21, 2015

The 2015 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 412, which revises portions of the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act. The relevant changes in the law take effect July 1, 2015.

1. Change in Benefit Rates

For all accidents occurring on or after July 1, 2015, the new maximum temporary total disability (TTD) rate shall be $550.00 per week, and the new maximum temporary partial disability (TPD) rate shall be $367.00 per week.

2. Change in Death Benefits

Effective July 1, 2015, O.C.G.A. § 34-9-265(d), provides that the maximum compensation payable to a surviving spouse as the sole dependent at the time of the employee’s death will be $220,000.00.

3. Changes to the Subsequent Injury Trust Fund

House Bill 412 extended the life of the Subsequent Injury Trust Fund (STIF) for three years, from 2020 to 2023. The bill also changed the formula for assessments to insurers and self-insurers to allow SITF to maintain an influx of $100 million per year to continue to pay claims out and try to conclude claims more promptly.

4. Change in Options for Complying with The Physician Selection Process

As O.C.G.A. § 34-9-201 had been written, an employer could comply with the physician selection process by either having a traditional panel of physicians, a conformed panel of physicians, or MCO. A traditional panel, which is utilized by the vast majority of employers in Georgia, requires a minimum of six unassociated physicians, whereas the conformed panel requires ten unassociated physicians. Up until July 1, 1998, employees of employers utilizing a conformed panel of physicians were legally obligated to utilize their one free change of panel physicians within sixty days of commencing treatment for an on-the-job injury. This was the sole benefit for an employer to have a conformed panel of physicians, as opposed to a traditional panel of physicians. However, effective July 1, 1998, this provision was deleted from O.C.G.A. § 34-9-201 and, from that point to the present, there has been no benefit for an employer to use a conformed panel, so that conformed panels were almost never used. House Bill 412 therefore removes the conformed panel option from the Act.

5. Added Language to The Exclusive Remedy Provision

House Bill 412 adds language to the Act strengthening the exclusive remedy provision contained under O.C.G.A. § 34-9-11. This was done in response to the controversial Georgia Court of Appeals decision in Pitts v. City of Atlanta, which was seen as having adversely affected the exclusive remedy doctrine by allowing an injured worker to not only collect workers’ compensation benefits from an employer, but also damages for breach of contract stemming from a failure to verify contractors on a construction project had sufficient liability insurance coverage. The added language strengthens the exclusive remedy provision by clarifying the exclusive remedy provision bars all civil liabilities unless the employer specifically agrees in writing to allow for remedies beyond those provided under the Act and general contractual provisions will not result in the employer inadvertently providing for additional remedies.

If you wish to further discuss these changes, please contact a Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers’ attorney at 404.874.8800 or via our website, www.swiftcurrie.com.

The foregoing is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of the full effect of these changes. Nothing in this notice should be construed as legal advice. This document is intended only to notify our clients and other interested parties about important recent developments. Every effort has been made to ascertain the accuracy of the information contained within this notice.

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