If I have a Workers Comp Case, Can I also have an Injury Case?

A lot of folks call us explaining that the injury happened on the job and wondering if their only option is to go through the restrictive Georgia worker’s comp scheme or if they can bring a civil case if the person that caused the injury is not working for the same company.
A recent Court of Appeals decision does a deep dive into circumstances where you settle the Comp case but worry about the implications in the civil personal injury case.
The Georgia Court of Appeals  issued a decision in the case of Hayes v. KSP Services, LLC et al., which involved an automobile accident between William Hayes and Brian Gardner. The appeals stemmed from a situation where Hayes was driving a vehicle owned by his employer, Waldrop’s Lawn Care, and Gardner was driving a vehicle owned by his employer, KSP Services, LLC. The civil defendant tried to get the trial judge to throw out the civil case, arguing that the plaintiff settled the comp case stipulating to no liability.
The trial court threw the victim’s case out, ruling that Hayes was judicially estopped from bringing a negligence action due to representations made during the settlement of his workers’ compensation claim against Waldrop.
The crux of the issue in Case No. A24A0361 was whether the trial court correctly applied the judicial estoppel doctrine and interpreted terms defined under the Workers’ Compensation Act in analyzing the settlement documents. Hayes argued that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals agreed. The court found that the trial court had misapplied the judicial estoppel doctrine, which precludes a party from asserting a position in one legal proceeding after having successfully asserted a contrary position in a prior proceeding.
In the workers’ compensation settlement documents, Hayes had stipulated that he sustained a compensable injury to his hips, legs, and back due to the accident, which occurred within the course of his employment with Waldrop. However, the stipulation also included a statement that Hayes did not sustain an accident and injury while employed with Waldrop, and all compensation benefits should be denied. The Court of Appeals determined that these seemingly contradictory representations did not warrant the application of judicial estoppel, as Hayes was not asserting inconsistent positions in different legal proceedings. They basically said that it is standard language in workers comp cases and let it slide. BE CAREFUL in those stipulations ladies and gentlemen.
Furthermore, the Court of Appeals noted that the trial court had misconstrued terms defined under the Workers’ Compensation Act in its analysis of the settlement documents. The stipulation and release between Hayes and Waldrop, which was approved by the State Board of Workers’ Compensation, did not conclusively establish that Hayes had not been injured in the accident. Therefore, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment in Case No. A24A0361.
In Case No. A24A0362, the Defendants appealed the trial court’s denial of their request for sanctions under Rule 37, alleging that Hayes intentionally failed to produce documents related to the settlement. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment, finding that sanctions were not warranted in this case.
Ultimately, the Court of Appeals decision in Hayes v. KSP Services, LLC et al. clarifies the application of judicial estoppel and the interpretation of settlement documents in workers’ compensation cases. The decision highlights the importance of ensuring that legal doctrines are correctly applied and that terms defined under relevant statutes are properly interpreted in court proceedings.
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