What are Board settlement mediations, and where do they occur?
In our experience, most workers’ compensation claims in Georgia are ultimately resolved through settlement. While neither party is ever required to settle a claim, usually both the injured worker and the employer/insurer find some benefit in settlement. The most obvious benefit to the injured worker is that settlement allows you to collect a larger lump-sum payment.
Ordinarily in Georgia workers’ compensation claims the only economic benefits available are paid out on a weekly basis and capped at a maximum amount of $675.00. Because a settlement usually takes into account the benefits that a worker will likely receive over some future period of time, and most often also accounts for medical as well as income benefits, the settlement amount will necessarily be far greater than the amount of one weekly check. For a worker who is falling behind on bills or other obligations while living under the reduced amount of a workers’ compensation weekly check, netting a one-time larger amount in the form of settlement may be an attractive option. This is especially true if the worker has the prospect of returning to work at another job and/or has an alternative means of paying for whatever medical treatment he or she may need. The employer/insurer may also benefit from settlement simply because it allows them to close the claim. While they are paying out a larger amount than they would be obligated to on a weekly basis, they are also getting assurance that the future costs of the claim won’t unexpectedly increase if an expensive medical procedure is ordered or if a worker remains out of work collecting benefits for longer than expected.
Once both parties are in agreement to settle a claim, they can begin negotiating. This can happen informally with phone calls and emails, or the parties may choose to negotiate at a specified place and time by scheduling a mediation. A mediator is an impartial third-party, usually another lawyer, who uses their expertise to help the parties reach an agreement. The parties can agree to pay for an attorney in private practice to act as their mediator. Alternatively, the parties can schedule a mediation with a staff attorney with the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation, for which there is no charge. The State Board is able to schedule mediations in the following cities throughout Georgia: Albany; Atlanta; Augusta; Brunswick; Cartersville; Columbus; Dalton; Douglas; Dublin; Gainesville; Macon; Savannah; Valdosta; Watkinsville; and Waycross. Directions to these mediation sites can be found at the Board’s website:
Because of COVID-19, Board mediations are currently being held over the phone or via video conferencing. However, the Board is expected to resume in-person mediations once the threat from the pandemic ends.
If you have a claim that you would like to try to resolve through a Board mediation, please contact the O’Connell Law Firm.