Articles Posted in Workers Compensation

railroad-stake-1517332It is common knowledge that workers’ compensation schemes bar, in most circumstances, negligence claims brought by an employee against his or her employer. Given that recovery in the workers’ compensation setting can be more limited than desired, litigants will often try to fit their negligence claims against an employer within the confines of those claims that are not barred under workers’ compensation laws. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently dealt with this practice in Dixon v. CSX Intermodal Terminals, Inc., a case that arose from the injury of an employee who fell while on the job.

The plaintiff in Dixon is an employee of the defendant, CSX Intermodal Terminals (“CSXIT”), which is a business providing motor carrier and transloading services. While attempting to unlock an interbox-connector, which is used to hitch containers in a railcar, the plaintiff fell. Following this accident, the plaintiff received $162,000 in workers’ compensation insurance benefits, the receipt of which bars claims for common law negligence against the employer under Georgia law. However, the statutory scheme does not bar claims brought under the Federal Employee Liability Act (“FELA”), and the plaintiff ultimately brought suit against CSXIT, alleging a negligence claim under this statute. The trial court ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, which argued that it is not covered by the provisions of the FELA. The employee appealed.

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photo_1525_20060508Although they are designed to provide efficient and speedy financial recovery to injured employees, workers’ compensation schemes can and do occasion protracted legal battles that are not dissimilar from the tort litigation for which they were intended to substitute. Indeed, it is not uncommon, considering the amount that can be at stake, for workers’ compensation claims to lead to full-blown cases litigated outside the administrative setting. For instance, the Georgia Court of Appeals recently rendered a decision in Bonner-Hill v. Southland Waste Systems, Inc., which dealt with the denial of workers’ compensation benefits to the widow whose husband died on the job.

The widow’s deceased husband worked at Southland Waste Systems of Georgia, Inc. at a facility located off State Road 247. Running parallel to State Road 247 is a Georgia Southern and Florida railway track, which must be crossed in order to access the Southland facility. Only a month after starting his job at Southland, the deceased person was driving to work along State Road 247. When the deceased person turned onto the entrance road for the Southland facility, a northbound train struck his vehicle. The collision resulted in significant injuries that ultimately led to his death. Following this incident, the deceased person’s widow filed a workers’ compensation claim, which Southland challenged, arguing that the deceased person did not die “during the course of his employment.” At an initial administrative hearing, the Administrative Law Judge determined that the death was compensable because the access road that crossed the railway track was the only way to access the facility, and therefore the road was part of the business premises. However, the Workers’ Compensation Board reversed this decision. The Board held that, since Southland did not own, operate, or control the entrance road, the deceased person had not yet arrived to work at the time of the accident. Consequently, his death was not compensable.

The Georgia Court of Appeals, however, reversed the Board’s determination. Under Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act, a worker is entitled to compensation for injuries that arise out of and in the course of employment. See O.C.G.A. § 34-9-1 (4). Generally, injuries “out of and in the course of employment” are not considered to include injuries caused by hazards encountered while going to or returning from work. Longuepee v. Ga. Institute of Technology, 269 Ga. App. 884, 885 (605 SE2d 455) (2004). However, an exception to this general rule exists for injuries occurring when an employee is engaged in ingress or egress at the particular work site, for the employee “has not started traveling a route of his choosing wholly disconnected with his employment.” Hill v. Omni Hotel at CNN Center, 268 Ga. App. 144, 147 (601 SE2d 472) (2004). For the ingress/egress exception to apply, the area where the employee was injured must either be limited (or very nearly so) to the respondent business, even if the business’s right to the area is merely a leasehold interest or some other non-exclusive access, Knight-Ridder Newspaper Sales, Inc. v. Desselle, 176 Ga. App. 174, 174-175 (335 SE2d 458) (1985), or owned, maintained, or controlled by the business, even though the area is heavily traversed by the public without connection to the business, Longuepee, 269 Ga. App. at 885.

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