Atlanta pays about $1 million a month in worker’s comp claims, a higher rate than national average

By David Pendered

Atlanta taxpayers have paid more than $44 million over a 45-month period for a worker’s compensation program that is significantly more generous than those of other state and local governments, according to a city audit.

Police observe from park's northern border. Credit: David Pendered

The Atlanta Police Department files a high number of worker’s compensation claims, a city audit shows. File/Credit: David Pendered

The cost per worker is 58 percent higher than the national average. The number of claims filed by city employees also exceeds the national average for local governments – by 2.5 times, the audit shows.

The situation results from a system that puts claims administration ahead of risk management, according to the audit. For example, Atlanta does not address safety practices with new employees, though it does inform them of how to submit claims and what benefits to expect.

The city’s regulations appear to have been ignored in some cases:

  • “About 21 percent of the instances of disability leave appeared not to meet the criteria established in city code. In most of these cases the department reported the injury more than 48 hours after the injury occurred. In six instances, we found no record that the employee had filed a related compensable workers’ compensation claim.”

Carl Warren & Co. has a $2.52 million, three-year contract to administer the city’s worker’s comp program. The contract was competitively bid and took effect in 2012, city records show.

Atlanta City Auditor Leslie Ward released the audit in September. It spurred little discussion.

Atlanta's mounted patrol is a special operations section designed to manage and disperse crowds. Credit: David Pendered

Atlanta’s mounted patrol is a special operations section designed to manage and disperse crowds. Credit: David Pendered

Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration concurred with the findings. Members of the Atlanta City Council were busy with issues including reelection campaigns and the community benefits deal involving the new Falcons stadium.

The audit showed Atlanta paid more than $44 million to cover 4,376 work-related injuries during the period studied, between July 2009 and March 2013. The sum covered medical costs, wage replacement, city disability leave, legal expenses, and payments to Carl Warren & Co.

The departments with the highest number of claims were the police department, watershed management, fire department, and public works, according to the audit. Workers in their first year of city employment filed the highest number of claims, “indicating the need for additional training and supervision for employees, particularly within those four departments.”

The average annual cost translates to about $1,681 for each full-time equivalent employee. That compares to an average of $1,061 per full-time equivalent employee as reported by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, according to the audit.

Most injured employees returned to work within a day of the reported injury.

Still, the number of injured workers was so high that 81,000 days of lost productivity were recorded during the review of the 45 months in the sample. That’s equal to about 83 persons a year, the audit showed.

Training programs could reduce the cost of Atlanta’s worker’s compensation program and help employees avoid injury by following safety precautions, the audit shows:

The audit determined that the number of repeat claimants was “high.”

A total of 927 employees filed multiple claims, accounting for 33 percent of all claimants, the audit showed. The highest number of repeat claims was 11. The average number of repeat claims by one person was 2.7.

The Department of Public Works had the highest number of repeat claims. According to the audit:

  • “About 22 percent of the repeat claims were for strains to the lower back or shoulder, bruised knees or multiple body parts, sprained ankles, and foreign bodies in the eye. The most frequent injuries to new employees were ankle sprains, shoulder and back strains, knee sprains, bruises, and foreign bodies in the eye.”

Carl Warren & Co. was formed in 1944 and has headquarters in Placentia, Ca., according to its webpage. In 2011, the company purchased NovaPro Risk Solutions, which formerly managed Atlanta’s worker’s comp program, according to the audit.


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

7 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    “The situation results from a system that puts claims administration ahead of risk management, according to the audit.”
    It results from employees being more focused on looting the system than providing good service to the taxpayers – another instance of “friends and family” at work.Report

  2. Lee Biola says:

    Burroughston Broch I hope you never have to experience a disabling injury.  I represent injured workers in workers’ compensation claims.  Work injuries can ruin peoples’ lives and workers’ compensation benefits never make up for the lost income, pain and suffering.
    The article compares the City government to all local governments nationwide.  This is like comparing apples and oranges.  The vast majority of local governments are not big cities and do not have the many moving parts of big city administration.  How does the City of Atlanta compare to similar cities?Report

  3. Leslie Ward says:

    Similar in what way?  The BLS statistics we used in the audit are rates, not absolute numbers, which makes the figures comparable regardless of size, however you measure it (population, employees, area, etc.).  Atlanta has a high rate of claims (claims per 100 full-time-equivalent employees) and a high average cost per claim compared to other local governments, regardless of size or any other of the numerous variables that can differ among cities.  Every city claims it’s unique in some way and that it cannot be compared with others (unless, of course, it comes out on top).

    As to the “many moving parts of big city administration,” sounds awfully close to suggesting that larger cities cannot be expected to do a good job of managing risk and employee safety.  Local governments as a group have higher injury rates than private sector employers in the same industries (again, BLS data – see link below).  Surely it’s not too much to expect that Atlanta at least be average for its own comparison group.

  4. Lee Biola says:

    Leslie Ward Larger cities can and must be expected
    to do a good job managing risk and employee safety. I am thrilled
    that you have taken on employee safety as a priority. Don’t let
    anything I say take away from that effort.
    But any city that has a higher
    percentage of employees in a high risk profession, like police, is
    going to have a higher injury rate than cities that don’t have as
    high a percentage of high risk employees.
    I have not read your audit, but the
    article cites figures that compare Atlanta with “the national
    average for local governments.” Does this include local
    governments that don’t employ police or fire? Does it include cities
    that have no sewer system to maintain? Your audit may have taken
    that into account, but I did not see it in the article.
    Private workers’ comp insurance
    companies set their premiums based on the percentage of high risk
    employees that an employer has. A company that employs mostly
    construction workers will typically have more work injuries, and
    higher insurance premiums, than a company that employs mostly office
    workers. That does not mean the construction company is operating at
    a lower safety standard than the company that employs only office
    It means that one line of business is
    inherently riskier and more likely to produce job injuries than the
    other. Just as there are many different types of companies with
    different levels of risk, there are many types of cities with
    different levels of risk. Some local governments have only office
    workers approving business licenses. Other local governments have
    bomb disposal teams. Expecting the same injury rate for both types
    is ridiculous.
    Please do hold the City of Atlanta to
    the highest standard possible. Just make sure that it is a fair and
    realistic standard and not one that compares Atlanta to local
    governments that don’t provide a fraction of the services, including
    risky and necessary services, that big city governments provide.
    Thank you again for working to improve
    employees’ safety.Report

  5. Burroughston Broch says:

    Lee Biola “I represent injured workers in workers’ compensation claims.”
    You have a vested interest in increasing the number of worker’s compensation claims. No wonder you offer excuses for the City of Atlanta’s dismal performance.Report

  6. Michael says:

    lot of businesses and municipalities are focused on worker’s compensation
    claims and most lament the high costs of claims and worker’s compensation insurance.
    yet few of them actually realize or seem to understand that injury prevention
    would dramatically influence the costs of insurance in the first place.
    Injuries that are prevented with proper employee training don’t cost anything
    and you will have greater employee productivity and perhaps even employee job
    satisfaction and retention if they know someone actually cares about their
    Should anyone have
    sympathy for employer’s, public or private, who complain about a high number of
    claims and/or their costs of insurance if they don’t effectively address employee
    safety in the first place?Report

  7. walkssophia says:

    Organizations basically look out for the profits by ignoring the fact that labors are to be paid. Strategically in order to make out the things more profitable, its not at all recommendable to ignore the workers wage. More or less they are only the personals who add value to any business or organizations. The legal terms matters a lot, and with a specific requirement, here is one link I would like to share here which defines the latest and updated labor compliance law.


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