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By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter

 

Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley and County Attorney Robin Rogers confirmed last week that former Sheriff Patrick Cannon is pressing a workers’ compensation lawsuit against Dade County.

The law treats workers’ compensation claims differently from other civil litigation in open court in that they are not considered matters of public record and are protected from the prying eyes of the press.

But Rumley and Rogers did not mind parting with general information about the claim, though they specified it was not a matter the county is dealing with directly in any case.

“Once a workers’ comp claim is filed, we have ACCG attorneys that handle that, so really, as far as the county goes, it’s kind of out of our hands after that point,” said Rogers.

ACCG is the acronym for the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.

Rogers and Rumley said that the former sheriff first opened a workers’ compensation claim when he injured his back during 2006 or 2007 – “It was open when we took office,” said Rumley, who was first elected in 2008 – in the course of his job duties. Rumley said the injury occurred while Cannon was carrying a dead body from a crime or accident scene on Sand Mountain he’d responded to.

“He was out of work for a while because of that,” said Rogers. “I mean, it wasn’t a week, it was an extended period of time.”

The claim has been open ever since, said Rogers, but while the sheriff was still an employee of Dade County, his salary was routinely paid by the county, not by the workers’ compensation carrier. The carrier did pay for medical treatment Cannon received, he said. 

It was only after the sheriff lost his bid for reelection that cash compensation became an issue. Rogers said he was unsure of workers’ comp law from state to state but understood: “You have to be out of work for 30 days before workers’ comp kicks in.”

Cannon, who was first elected in 2004, won a second term in 2008 but was bested by current Sheriff Ray Cross in last year’s Republican primary.

Now, said Rumley and Rogers, they are routinely updated on how Cannon’s case is progressing but haven’t been asked for testimony. “I don’t think anyone has ever been asked to do a deposition or anything like that,” said Rogers. “It’s never been an issue of compensability, as far as I know.”

The attorney said he didn’t know whether Cannon had asked for a lump sum settlement but that that was normal in cases where employees were judged to have sustained serious on-the-job injuries. “If there’s a permanent impairment, yeah, he would be entitled to some sort of payment under the workers’ comp law,” said Rogers.

As to when the matter will be settled, Rogers could only shrug. “I’ve always heard, and it does seem to be true, that insurance carriers want to close out as many open claims as they can by the end of the year because it looks better on their books somehow,” he said.

So he wouldn’t be surprised if the case concluded by the end of 2013, he said, but he added that workers’ compensation cases sometimes drag on for years and it could just as easily be 2014 or beyond.

What impact will Cannon’s claim have on Dade County? “We’re not going to write a check for it,” said Rumley. The county’s insurance carrier will pay, he said. 

“But, as at any time you have a claim, whether you’re driving a car of your own or whatever, your insurance goes up when you file a claim, usually,” he said.    

 

 

 


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