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Georgia Courts Still Bound by Workers’ Compensation Exclusive Remedy Doctrine

On March 6, 2020, the Georgia Court of Appeals found that the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers' Compensation Act barred a truck driver’s personal injury action against a trucking company for which she alleged she provided services as an independent contractor, after she was injured in an accident that occurred when she was in the sleeping compartment of tractor trailer and her husband was driving. Estes v. G&W Carriers, LLC, No. A19A2385, 2020 WL 1074056 (Ga. Ct. App. Mar. 6, 2020). The trial court had granted summary judgment on the basis the action was barred by O.C.G.A. § 34-7-21 which shields employers from liability for injuries arising from negligence or misconduct of other employees but did not address G&W’s exclusive remedy argument. However, the Court of Appeals could affirm on the exclusive remedy ground even though the trial court granted summary judgment on different ground.

The Court of Appeals found, “The test [for determining whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor] is not whether the employer did in fact control and direct the employee in the work, but it is whether the employer had that right under the employment contract.” In holding that the undisputed evidence demonstrated G&W’s assumption of the right to control the time, manner and method of Estes’ work, the Court of Appeals cited to the following evidence as support: G&W hired Estes and her husband to drive its tractor trailer; G&W owned and had DOT authority over the tractor trailer; G&W retained the right to terminate Estes and her husband; G&W paid all costs of operating the tractor trailer; G&W was responsible for the maintenance of the tractor trailer; G&W paid for the fuel and inspections of its tractor trailers and its drivers’ records; G&W was responsible for assigning loads to Estes and her husband; G&W arranged the pickup and delivery times for the loads that Estes and her husband hauled; and G&W supplied Estes and her husband with log books and required them to be turned in every week. The Court of Appeals further held that “the fact that [G&W] issued its workers Internal Revenue Service Form 1099 (rather than Form W-2) ... and did not withhold taxes from their paychecks or provide insurance for the workers does not create a jury question on [Estes’] status as an employee.”

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