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Georgia Appeals Court Narrow Justification for Workers’ Comp. Denial

Written by: Melanie V. Slaton, Esq.

The recent decision of Burdette v. Chandler Telecom, LLC, 335 Ga App 190 (2015), is instructive and explored what constitutes an “employee’s willful misconduct ” in the workers’ compensation  context. The employee was a cell tower technician. On the employee’s initial day of work he was told by his boss to climb down the cell tower and not to do a controlled descent. The employee disobeyed the direct order from his supervisor and engaged in a controlled descent, he fell, and suffered serious injuries. The ALJ and the Superior Court found that the employee was barred from recovering workers’ compensation because of the employee’s willful misconduct. However, the Court of Appeals  reversed and held that the mere violations of instructions, orders or rules where the danger is obvious do not, without more, constitute willful misconduct as a matter of law. The Court of Appeals noted that even if the employee engaged in an act that was dangerous, his conduct was not criminal and therefore does  not constitute a wanton and reckless disregard of probable consequences. The Court of Appeals reversed the decision.