A recent Georgia Supreme Court decision, Roseburg Forest Products Co. v. Barnes, 2016 WL 3147567 (Ga. 2016), reaffirms that the statutes of limitation in workers’ compensation cases affect even catastrophic injuries and though an employee goes for remedial treatment for an injury, once the statutes of limitation have run, they cannot be revived by simply going for more treatments.
On August 13, 1993, Barnes left leg was amputated in an industrial accident. He received Temporary Total Disability (TTD) benefits until January 1994 when he was fitted with a prosthetic leg and returned to light duty. In January 1994, Barnes began receiving Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) benefits. The PPD benefits stopped in May 1998.
Barnes continued to work for Roseburg until he was laid off in September 2009. In November 2009, Barnes consulted a doctor for chronic knee pain and was eventually fitted for a new prosthetic in December 2011. Barnes did not consult another doctor about his knee pain in those two years.
In 2012, Barnes filed two claims for workers’ compensation. The first, Barnes requested that his original TTD payments resume from the 1993 injury. The second, he made a claim for chronic knee pain alleging an injury date of September 2009.
Barnes made the argument that the two-year statute of limitations provided by O.C.G.A. 34-9-104(b) should not apply because his injury was classified as catastrophic. Barnes also made the argument that the one-year statute of limitations provided by O.C.G.A. 34-9-82 should start running from the last date he visited a doctor.
With the first claim, the Court held that even though the injury was classified as catastrophic, it was still affected by the statute of limitations and Barnes was sixteen years too late in making his claim to reinstate the TTD payments. The Court relied on prior cases applying these principals. The Court looked to United Grocery Outlet v. Bennett, wherein an employee sought reinstatement of her TTD benefits after losing her job. “The legislature determined that the limitation period should begin on the day the last income was actually made.” Roseburg at *2, quoting United Grocery Outlet, 292 Ga. App. 363, 364 (2008).
On the second claim, the Court held that the statute of limitations is not revived if the initial period has already run before the employee seeks remedial treatment. The Court reached this conclusion not only from case law, but from the impact that reviving the statute of limitations would have on future cases. The Court stated that “rather than creating closure…[it] would do just the opposite by allowing an injured employee to simply revive a stale claim at any time by seeking remedial treatment…” Roseburg at *3.
The Court’s decision gives finality to workers’ compensation claims and does not create an uncertainty for employees or employers with regard to which claims are time barred.