When Can Georgia Workers’ Comp. Claims Be Denied for ‘Willful Misconduct?’
GEORGIA – June 15, 2018 (gabar.org) As explained in the Summer 2017 Workers’ Compensation Law Newsletter (p. 13), a workers’ compensation claim in Georgia can be denied if the employee engaged in “willful misconduct” that led to his own injuries.*
In February 2017, the Supreme Court of Georgia shed light on the state’s standard for willful misconduct as an affirmative defense to a workers’ compensation claim. In the case Chandler Telecom, LLC, et al. v. Burdette, an employee, Adrian Burdette, was injured after descending from a cell phone tower on which he had been working. Burdette’s supervisor repeatedly told Burdette that he needed to climb down the tower, rather than perform a controlled descent, but Burdette chose to use a controlled descent anyway. In so doing, he injured his angle, leg, and hip.
Burdette’s workers’ compensation claim related to the injury was originally denied because Burdette had engaged in willful misconduct that led to his injuries. After bouncing around in the court system, the case made its way to the state Supreme Court, which held that the willful misconduct standard had been improperly applied, and that the Board of Workers’ Compensation needed to act as the factfinder in these types of claims. The Court remanded the case to the Superior Court with instructions for remand back to the Board.
In its decision, the Supreme Court clarified the standard for willful misconduct. Willful misconduct, the Court said, is not a mere violation of instructions, orders, rules, ordinances, and statutes; It is something more than thoughtlessness, heedlessness, or inadvertence in violating a rule or order. Willful misconduct involves conduct of a criminal or quasi-criminal nature, an action taken with knowledge that it is likely to result in serious injury or with wanton and reckless disregard of its probably consequences.
It is only by meeting this strict threshold that an employee’s workers’ compensation claim can be denied in Georgia for willful misconduct.
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