What is a Catastrophic Workplace Injury?

Serious work injuries resulting in catastrophic designation

Updated May 3, 2023

In Georgia, the workers’ compensation system acknowledges the harsh reality that some work injuries can leave employees unable to return to work – not just at their current job, but at any job. These types of injuries are categorized as “catastrophic” under Georgia’s workers’ compensation law (OCGA 34-9-200.1), and they entitle the injured employee to lifelong medical treatment and indemnity benefits. While income benefits typically expire after 350-400 weeks, the catastrophic designation allows permanent support for those who have experienced the most severe workplace accidents.

In Georgia, a catastrophic injury is often defined as (1) a severe spinal cord injury involving paralysis of an arm, leg, or trunk; (2) an amputation of an arm, hand, foot, or leg involving the effective loss of use of the appendage; (3) a severe brain or closed-head injury where there is severe sensory or motor disturbances, as well as disturbances in communication, cerebral functioning or consciousness, or neurological disorders; (4) second- or third-degree burns over 25% of the employee’s body, or third-degree burns to 5 percent or more to the face or hands; (5) total or industrial blindness; or (6) any other injury of a nature and severity that prevents the injured worker from being able to perform his or her prior work and any work available in substantial numbers within the national economy for which the employee is otherwise qualified.

When an employee experiences a debilitating injury, the road to recovery can be challenging to navigate. If the injury is not deemed “catastrophic” and the doctor releases the employee to return to work with restrictions, there is a 130-week period where the injury is presumed not to be catastrophic. However, if the injury falls under one of the first five categories (such as appendage amputations or severe brain trauma), it is automatically considered catastrophic. In these cases, the employer and insurance company will work with the employee to provide rehabilitation services, medical treatment, and income benefits. Knowing your rights in these situations is essential, as is working with the right medical professionals to ensure the best possible outcome.

In the world of workplace injuries, the most contentious and complex cases are often injuries that prevent an employee from working in any capacity. These “nature and severity” cases require extensive evidence and legal argumentation to prove. The burden of proof lies on the injured worker and their legal representatives. Insurance companies, employers, and self-insurers who resist granting these designations can make this an uphill battle.

Additionally, Social Security disability benefits will play a part in this analysis. In Georgia, the State Board of Workers’ Compensation may consider the Social Security award as evidence of whether the work injury may be designated as “catastrophic.”

Working with experienced attorneys is critical to ensuring you receive the care and benefits you deserve. Reach out to our team for a free consultation.