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Employee Entitled to receive Temporary Total Disability Benefits
Burns v. State of Georgia, Department of Administrative Services
(Georgia Court of Appeals)
Employee entitled to receive temporary total disability (“TTD”) benefits following termination because Employer was found to have terminated her because of her work-related injury.
LaVerne Burns was a receptionist for the State of Georgia, Department of Administrative Services. She was injured when the chair she was sitting in collapsed. She received worker’s compensation benefits in connection with the injury, but continued to work in her position until her employment was terminated. She then sought TTD benefits. An administrative law judge (“ALJ”) awarded Ms. Burns TTD benefits, finding the reasons the employer gave for terminating her employment were pretextual and she was terminated due to her work injury. The State Board’s Appellate Division upheld the award of TTD benefits.
Following her employer’s termination, the claimant sought TTD benefits. The employer challenged the request on the grounds that her employment was terminated for reasons unrelated to her injury and because she had not sought another job. After the trial, the ALJ awarded Burns TTD benefits and specifically found she was a credible witness and “the reasons given by the employer to justify her termination were pretextual and that she was terminated due to her work injury.” Because the real reason for the termination was the work-related injury and claim, the ALJ determined Burns had carried her burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, entitlement to TTD benefits.
As a general rule to obtain benefits, a claimant is required to show either that they have searched for another position or that they had been working in a restricted capacity when their employment was terminated. The Supreme Court of Georgia inPadgett v. Waffle House, 269 Ga. 105, 498 S.E.2d 499 (Ga. 1998), clarified that showing a diligent but unsuccessful effort to secure employment following termination was a way of establishing the necessary element of causation. However, in this case, by proving the work-related injury was the proximate cause of the termination, the claimant established the causal link between injury and her worsened economic condition. Therefore, she did not have to establish she had searched for another position. Finding the reasons for the termination were a pretext to avoid continued payment of benefits satisfied the proximate cause requirement.
The Court said the issue was not whether Burns sought new employment or whether she was working under restrictions when the employer terminated her, but whether she demonstrated the necessary causal link between her work-related injury and her worsened economic condition. The fact that the employer gave pretextual reasons for terminating her employment, which was due in part to Burns’ work-related injury, established the causal link. The case was remanded back to address whether or not there was sufficient evidence to establish the finding of her termination based upon a pretext.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The article was written by Rayford H. Taylor, Esq., Of Counsel to Gilson Athans P.C., a law firm dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation and all other liability and commercial matters. Mr. Taylor is admitted to practice law in Florida and Georgia and is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating an attorney can receive. Taylor and Gilson Athans are members of The National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN). The NWCDN is a national and Canadian network of reputable law firms organized to provide employers and insurers access to the highest quality representation in workers’ compensation and related employer liability fields.