You may be wondering what the differences are when handling a workers' compensation case in comparison with a personal injury case. In the grand view, these two practice areas are very similar. In both situations, the focus of the practitioner is on the same goals and phases, ergo, getting the client appropriate and necessary medical care; determining the appropriate time to attempt to resolve the case; preparing a settlement demand that addresses the exposures and presents a starting valuation from which to commence negotiations; and ultimately finalizing the settlement and related issues.
Beneath these similarities is a plethora of details that differ in Workers' Compensation. Some are legal, and some are practical, in terms of the needs of the clients and the things that the practitioner and office staff members must tend to during the course of the case, through and including settlement.
The Statutory Framework of Workers' Compensation differs slightly from that of personal injury. At the outset, Workers' Compensation is governed by a different set of laws and rules that are unique to the practice area. Workers' Compensation is entirely a creature of statute. The Workers' Compensation Act, O.C.G.A. Sec. 34-9-1, et seq., provides the statutory framework and establishes the Workers' Compensation system in Georgia. The Workers' Compensation Act governs virtually all things that take place in a Workers' Compensation claim, and it is always the place to start when looking for the authority regarding a specific Workers' Compensation issue.
There are certain rules and regulations that are implemented by the State Board of Workers' Compensation. Pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act, the State Board of Workers' Compensation has authority to promulgate rules for the administration of Workers' Compensation claims. Accordingly, while the Workers' Compensation Act is always the place to start when researching Workers' Compensation, the second place to look is the Rules and Regulations of the State Board or Workers' Compensation. These rules are known as the "Board Rules," and they are found in the first Appendix to Title 34 of the Official Code of Georgia, Annotated. (Title 34 of the code, of course, deals with Labor and Industrial Relations.) The Board Rules are usually numbered to correspond with the Code Section of the Workers' Compensation Act to which they relate most directly. For example, while the statute governing conducting of Workers' Compensation hearings is O.C.G.A. Sec. 34-0-102, Board Rule 102 provides additional information on procedures for hearings, motions, etc.
Also, of course, in addition to the Workers' Compensation Act and the Board Rules, decisions of the Court of Appeals are just as relevant in Workers' Compensation as they are in any other practice area. Once the practitioner has acquired a solid grasp of the Workers' Compensation Act and the Board Rules, the appellate decisions are usually the preferred source to begin legal research on a question involving Workers' Compensation in Georgia. However, as is the case with any practice area, it is always a good idea to look at the statute and the Board Rule if there is any doubt as to what they say, as the answer is often plain to see there, and looking there can save time otherwise wasted in reading appellate opinions.