Savannah has a bustling tourism industry and a fair share of manufacturing jobs from companies like Gulfstream Aerospace and International Paper. Both produce their fair share of workers compensation cases.
But what makes Georgia’s oldest city different is its port, which is a mainstay of its economy. And maritime business adds interesting complications to workers compensation claims.
“Handling port-related and longshore-related workers comp cases is an extremely different animal than handling just standard, state workers compensation claims,” said Shari Miltiades, who has practiced workers compensation cases in Georgia for 35 years.
“Most people tend to think if you’re injured working on a container ship, then you’re a longshoreman. But the jurisdictional reach is so much greater than that. It’s really important that any lawyer who is screening a workers compensation case for anybody working in a maritime-related job has to ask the right questions to determine where the jurisdiction is. Each jurisdiction has its own advantages, but in the federal longshore jurisdiction, the compensation rate is so high that if you can get a claim handled under the Longshore Act, it tends to be better for your client.”
But there are gray areas as to who qualifies among the dock workers, truck drivers moving on and off the port facility, those monitoring truck traffic on and off the port facility, mechanics who repair containers and others who keep a port running. Then, there are those who work exclusively on vessels, who fall under an entirely different federal law, the Jones Act.
“You really have to be able to distinguish which jurisdiction is appropriate when you’re doing an intake of a new claim,” Miltiades said. “It’s not unique to Savannah, but, obviously, it’s unique to any city with a port.”
If that’s not complicated enough, Georgia law usually permits those with a longshore injury in Georgia to concurrently file federal and state claims.
“The key is to be able to get an attorney who knows how to spot where you belong,” Miltiades said.
Reasons to Hire a Workers Comp Lawyer in Savannah
Georgia’s workers compensation system shouldn’t be difficult to navigate as long as the worker reports the injury and the employer turns it over to the insurance company. But “should” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.
Insurance companies sometimes drop the ball because their adjusters, who often handle multiple states, are overburdened. Medical treatment management companies, which in theory should facilitate the process, are a “complete nightmare.”
“You never can get anything scheduled,” Miltiades said. “You can never get anyone on the phone. That’s taking our simple system and making it complicated.”
What indicates you need to get an attorney involved? No. 1 is medical treatment or physical therapy not being approved in a timely way.
“That’s the first red flag, because the purpose of the system is to get you fixed and back to work,” she said.
The second most frequent problem Miltiades sees is the employer denying the claim. If that happens, call an attorney right away. Likewise, if an insurance adjuster or attorney calls making you a monetary offer, get legal advice to make sure the offer is fair and that there are no strings attached.
“When it comes to any kind of legal documents, the devil is in the details,” she said. “People are being generally asked to release a lot of things that they don’t know they’re being asked to release.”
Other signs you need an attorney are:
- The insurer has begun cutting or modifying benefits
- Your injury may have involved negligence on the part of a third party
- You receive unexpected bills for treatment
- Work restrictions ordered by doctor are being ignored
- Access to a second doctor for treatment is disputed
- Right to independent medical exam (IME) is disputed
- Your injury may not allow you to return to work
What Do Workers Comp Attorneys in Savannah Do?
Maybe you’re smart. Maybe you’re educated. What can a workers’ comp attorney do that you can’t do yourself?
“Some of the things I can do – it’s not what I went to law school for – but I’ve gotten really good at coordinating and expediting medical treatment,’” Miltiades said. “There are legal procedures we can follow that a layman would never know to do.”
For instance, if you’re injured in a car accident at work, do you realize you can also sue the driver of the car that hit you? Would you know how to tell if you also have a Social Security disability claim? If you have an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim, do you know how settling your workers comp claim may affect that? How will a workers comp settlement affect Medicare payments? These are just some of the potential complications.
“Issue spotting is something that no matter how well-educated you are, if you don’t work in this system regularly, you wouldn’t know what to look for,” Miltiades said. “I do every single intake by myself because a lot of issues come up that an attorney can spot that somebody else can’t.”
How Much Do Workers Comp Lawyers in Savannah Charge?
If an injured worker is trying to decide whether he/she can afford to hire an attorney, there is no need to overthink it. It doesn’t cost anything to hire a workers compensation attorney.
That doesn’t mean the attorney works for free. In Georgia, attorneys are paid on a contingency fee basis, which means they can only get paid if they recover an award for the worker. Attorneys are entitled to 25% of settlements. That includes weekly benefits, although Miltiades said she does not take that.
The first meeting to discuss the case is a free consultation. The injured worker tells his/her story and the attorney advises them what benefits they may be able to claim and whether they actually need an attorney to proceed with the case.
Attorneys are not allowed to take any fee over $100 without the Georgia Workers Compensation Board approval. Attorneys do not receive retainers or hourly fees. The system issues separate checks paid directly to the worker and attorney.
“I tell my clients, ‘Here’s your check. Do whatever you want to with it,’” Miltiades said. It doesn’t have to sit in my trust account for two weeks.”
Handling a Workers Comp Case on Your Own in Savannah, GA
Most claims do not require the help of a workers comp attorney. When the system works as intended, you simply have to notify your employer to kickstart the process of filing a workers compensation claim. If things do not work out in your favor, you have the option to appeal a claim denial. This will require the help of a workers comp lawyer, but for reference, the step-by-step guide is detailed below.
Filing a Workers Comp Claim in Savannah
When you file a claim in Savannah, getting the initial form processed and knowing how workers comp works is vital. You can’t let any details slip through the cracks.
The injured employee, the employer and the insurance carrier are the principal players.
- Injured worker notifies employer – Employee has a 30-day deadline to notify his/her employer.
- Insurance carrier investigates the claim – Workers comp will not provide benefits for injuries resulting from misconduct.
- Insurance carrier files a First Report of Injury – Copies will be sent to the State Board of Workers Compensation, the employee and the employer.
- Injured worker receives the workers comp brochure – The brochure is sent by the insurance company, and it contains information about the rights, benefits and procedures for obtaining workers comp benefits.
- Appealing a claim denial – Employees have the option to appeal if their claim is denied.
Filing a Workers Comp Claim for an Occupational Disease
You generally have one year after the date that you knew (or should have reasonably known) of the disease and how it was caused by your employment. With few exceptions (notably asbestosis or mesothelioma), you can’t file a claim for an occupational disease more than seven years after your last exposure to the work hazard.
How to Appeal a Workers Comp Denial in Savannah
There are specific avenues you must follow if your claim has been denied in Savannah and you want file an appeal.
It’s understandable if you’re confused and angry over this roadblock. What happened? Your claim could be denied as a whole (meaning the insurance company doesn’t believe there was an injury) or through a certain aspect (maybe medical treatment with a specific doctor or denial of a specific body part that that the claim says was hurt on the job). The insurance company could assert that your injuries are not catastrophic. It may not believe they were due to a workplace accident.
So how do you appeal? The process can be difficult, so it’s advisable to hire an attorney, who can guide you through any reviews with the Georgia SBWC.
Here are the steps to challenging your denial:
File A Claim
In a 2019 survey of Georgia plaintiffs who received benefits after initially being denied, more than half said they filed paperwork with the SBWC to challenge the insurance company’s decision. The “notice of claim’’ (form WC-14) is good for one year after your injury or last medical treatment provided and two years after your last weekly disability payment. Get used to the details and paperwork. It’s part of the process.
If the Board orders you to appear for mediation, you are required to attend. Georgia has 15 mediation sites scattered all over the state, including one in Savannah. In Georgia, approximately 82% of the appeals cases are solved this way instead of a hearing. But if a settlement can’t be reached, the process continues.
Employee Assistance Office
7 East Congress Street
Savannah, GA 31401
Directions to the Savannah Mediation Site:
It’s an informal legal proceeding that typically takes place at a courtroom in the county where the injury occurred. Your attorney will make arguments and present evidence to a judge, who will make a decision within 30 days.
If you don’t like the judge’s hearing decision, your attorney can go to the SBWC’s appellate division by filing an application for review within 20 days of the ruling. The appellate division makes its decision after evaluating written arguments from both sides.
If the SBWC appellate judge rules against you, there’s one final recourse. You can go to the Georgia Court of Appeals (and subsequently to the Georgia Supreme Court). Your attorney must file that appeal in the county where you were injured within 20 days of the SBWC’s final order.
Eligibility for Workers Comp in Savannah
Nearly every employer in Savannah is required to provide employees with workers compensation insurance. According to Georgia law, any business with three or more workers (including regular part-time workers) must have the insurance and coverage begins on the employee’s first day of work.
There are some exceptions to coverage requirements, including railroad carriers, U.S. Government agencies, farm laborers and domestic servants.
Want to check on your workplace? Coverage can be verified by going to www.sbwc.georgia.gov and clicking on “How Do I verify an employer’s workers’ compensation insurance coverage’’ or by checking through this database.
Benefits: What Does Workers Comp Cover in Savannah?
There are three major categories of benefits in Savannah’s workers compensation laws — medical, lost wages and death benefits — with several sub-categories that help determine how much you might receive and for how long.
Here is a look at each category of benefits and the sub-category that influences how much is paid out and for how long.
Medical Benefits — In Savannah, you are required to use one of the six doctors offered by the company. It’s your choice and you can switch that option once. In that circumstance, the insurer must pay all of your medical bills as long as the doctor says the treatment is for your job-related injury. If you receive weekly benefits, you have the right to ask the SBWC to be examined by a doctor you choose.
When you’re hurt on the job, it’s in everyone’s best interest — the business owner, fellow employees, insurance carrier and certainly you — to have you get well and return to work. Paying medical costs to achieve that goal is the foundation of workers compensation.
Lost Wage Benefits — The bills still must be paid, even when you’re out of work. But in Savannah, the lost wage benefits are among the nation’s lowest for workers compensation.
As of July 1, 2019, the maximum benefit for an injured Savannah worker was two-thirds of the weekly salary up to a maximum of $675. That is an increase of $100 from the previous era, but the state-of-Georgia ranks 46th in maximum benefits in the U.S.
“When it was $575, we were 49th, right behind Mississippi, so now we’ve skyrocketed,’’ Holder said. “Look, we were glad it went up. It’s more money. But it also represents how much we are lagging.
“Unfortunately, this is a very unique situation. Florida has a maximum rate that is indexed each year, based on the per capita income in the state. We wish we had that. We did go up, but it’s still a flat number, not an index.’’
Here’s a look at the various sub-categories for the lost wage payments.
Temporary Total Disability Benefits — This is the maximum benefit (up to $675 weekly). You qualify if that doctor says you can’t work at all or if they put you on “light work duty’’ (and there’s no light duty available).
Temporary Partial Disability Benefits — Temporary partial disability benefits are payable when your doctor says you can go back to work, but only for limited duty with some restrictions. It applies because you are making less per hour or because you are working fewer hours.
The weekly TPD benefit is equal to two-thirds of your average weekly salary up to a maximum of $450 per week. The TPD benefits last for a maximum of 350 weeks (slightly less than seven years) from the date of the accident.
Permanent Partial Disability Benefits — PPD claims are by far the most common type of workers compensation claim (accounting for more than half of all cases nationwide). It can be the result of a work-related injury or an occupational disease. In Savannah, these benefits can be claimed only if you are not receiving TTD or TPD benefits.
PPD benefits are two-thirds of the weekly salary up to a maximum of $675 a week. They are calculated by multiplying the percentage of impairment rating given by the doctor by the number of weeks allowed under the law depending on the type of injury that you have.
Death Benefits — In Savannah, the maximum death benefit is $270,000 (two-thirds of deceased worker’s average weekly wage up to a maximum of $675 for a maximum of 400 weeks). Workers compensation must also cover funeral and burial expenses (up to $7,500).
- N.A. (ND) Workers’ Compensation Law FAQs. Retrieved from https://sbwc.georgia.gov/frequently-asked-questions/workers-compensation-law-faqs
- N.A. (ND) Publications. Retrieved from https://sbwc.georgia.gov/publications-and-forms/publications