Role of State Board
Established in 1920 by the Georgia Legislature, the State Board of Workers’ Compensation governs workers’ compensation programs that cover over a quarter of a million employers in Georgia and over 3.8 million workers. The State Board is funded by assessments from insurance companies and self-insured employers.
The State Board controls all aspects of your workers’ compensation claim. Remember, if you are injured on the job, you do not have a choice about whether to pursue a claim – by law, the State Board has jurisdiction over all claims. You cannot “opt out” and take your case to a state or federal court.
State Board Resolves Disputes but Does Not Issue Monetary Awards
Besides processing all of the paperwork associated with your claim, the State Board plays an important role in deciding disputes between you and your employer (and its insurance carrier). State Board judges play an active role in encouraging both sides to resolve disputes. Often, for example, if the insurance company’s lawyer and I have reached an impasse on a particular issue, I will schedule a phone conference with the judge to ask for direction. In this regard, State Board judges can help move a case along quickly and efficiently.
Of course, there are some cases where the issues are too significant for resolution with a conference call. For example, the insurance company may be denying that you were injured on the job at all, or that you were not engaged in work activity when you got hurt. In this type of circumstance, I will request a hearing and the State Board judge will hold a full blown evidentiary hearing, which includes testimony, cross-examination and opening and closing arguments.
By the way, there are no jury trials at the State Board – the judge makes the decision.
More recently, State Board judges have encouraged lawyers for both sides to consider mediation to resolve issues or to settle claims. Sometimes State Board judges will serve as a mediator, although more often, private mediators (often retired State Board judges) will mediate.
The State Board also has an Appellate Division known as the “Full Board” – these are different judges who hear appeals of decisions by individual State Board judges. Beyond the Full Board, litigants can appeal to Superior Court judges and even the Georgia Court of Appeals.