The Georgia Workers' Compensation Act ("the Act") and the related regulations establish a system of comprehensive medical coverage and income benefits for employees who suffer work-related injuries. Workers' compensation is a statutory scheme that grants the injured employee a sure remedy of scheduled income benefits and medical coverage without regard to fault; in exchange, the employer and insurer escape the high costs of litigation and the threat of compensatory and punitive damages. Under this quid pro quo, employees injured at work have as their exclusive remedy the workers' compensation system, thereby giving rise to the "exclusive remedy doctrine." The integrity of the exclusive remedy doctrine is the key to maintaining a fundamentally sound and equitable workers' compensation system. The exclusive remedy doctrine, however, is facing a formidable challenge in Georgia. In Zurich American Insurance Co. v. Dicks, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that a physical injury caused by willful and wanton cessation of workers' compensation benefits circumvents the exclusive remedy doctrine and gives rise to a tort action. The court found that a new or exacerbated physical injury that arises from the actions of the insurer is outside the scope of the Workers' Compensation Act. This ruling enables similarly situated plaintiffs to pursue recovery through the workers' compensation system and through traditional civil litigation. The holding in Dicks exposes employers and insurers to the very risk the quid pro quo originally prevented: compensatory and punitive damages.
Robert R. Potter and Joan T.A. Gabel, The Emerging Bad Faith Cause of Action Takes on the Exclusive Remedy Doctrine, 48 Mercer L. Rev. 63 (1996).