CHANDLER TELECOM, LLC et al.
case presents the question of whether an employee may - in
deliberate disobedience of his employer's explicit
prohibition - act in a knowingly dangerous fashion with
disregard for the probable consequences of that act, and
still recover workers' compensation when injured by that
disobedient act. We conclude that OCGA § 34-9-17 (a), as
we have interpreted it for nearly a century, may bar recovery
in such cases.
Burdette was seriously injured when he fell while attempting
a controlled descent from a cell-phone tower in contravention
of instructions by his employer, Chandler Telecom, LLC
("Chandler"), that technicians must climb down from
towers. The State Board of Workers' Compensation (the
"Board") adopted an administrative law judge's
findings and concluded that Burdette was barred from
receiving compensation because he engaged in "willful
misconduct" within the meaning of OCGA § 34-9-17
(a). Burdette appealed to the superior court, which affirmed
the Board's decision by operation of law. Burdette then
appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals
reversed, concluding that Burdette's actions did not
constitute "willful misconduct" as we defined that
term nearly a century ago in Aetna Life Insurance Co. v.
Carroll, 169 Ga. 333 (150 SE 208) (1929)
("Carroll"). Burdette v. Chandler
Telecom, LLC, 335 Ga.App. 190 (779 S.E.2d 75)
(2015). We granted certiorari to determine whether the Court
of Appeals erred in its interpretation and application of
Carroll. Because we conclude that the Court of
Appeals misapplied Carroll and improperly made its
own findings, we reverse; because the Board's limited
findings preclude meaningful review of whether the Board
properly applied Carroll, we remand.
forth in the Court of Appeals opinion, the record in this
case, when viewed in the light most favorable to the
prevailing party, shows as follows:
Burdette was initially employed by Chandler as a cell-tower
technician on September 1, 2012, and he worked there for
three weeks before taking a five-week leave of absence.
Burdette was terminated during his leave of absence due to a
miscommunication with his supervisor, but he was then rehired
on November 2, 2012. During Burdette's leave of absence,
Chandler required all of its cell-tower technicians to [be]
ComTrain certified. Upon his return, Burdette was asked if he
was ComTrain certified, and he lied and said that he had this
On November 5, 2012, Burdette's first day back at work,
he was assigned to work on the top of a cell tower with Brian
Prejean, who was the "lead tower hand" of the crew.
And prior to their shift that day, the supervisor over
Burdette's six-person crew instructed them to climb down
the towers and not to use controlled descent. Prejean and
Burdette then worked together on the same cell tower from
around 8:00 a.m. until 3:30 or 4:00 p.m. When their work was
almost complete, Prejean instructed Burdette to climb down
the tower, but Burdette responded that he wanted to use
controlled descent instead.
Prejean's account of his conversation with Burdette just
before Burdette's descent (and fall) is as follows:
I told him no, man, just climb down. Might as well just climb
down. . . . [W]e don't have a safety rope up here for you
to grab. He told me he had done this so many times. I was
like, dude, they're going to be mad if you do it. [Our
supervisor] will be mad if you do it and, . . . you might not
have a job or you might, you know, have to deal with the
consequences if you don't listen . . . .
Nevertheless, even after Prejean instructed Burdette to climb
down the tower two or three more times, Burdette prepared his
equipment and began controlled descent. Shortly thereafter,
Burdette fell a great distance from the tower and landed on
an "ice bridge, " which caused serious injuries to
his ankle, leg, and hip. Burdette has no memory of his fall
or anything that happened immediately before or after it,
including his conversation with Prejean. Prejean testified
that Burdette's fall was the result of "user error,
" rather than any equipment malfunction. He further
noted that, while Burdette had the required equipment for
climbing down, he did not have all of the necessary equipment
for controlled descent.
335 Ga.App. at 191-92.
reversing the Board's decision, the Court of Appeals
concluded that Burdette's intentional violation of an
employer rule and other explicit instructions was not
"willful misconduct" under OCGA § 34-9-17 (a).
It arrived at this conclusion, citing Carroll,
because Burdette's violation was not of a "quasi
criminal nature involving the intentional doing of something
either with the knowledge that it is likely to result in
serious injury, or with a wanton and reckless disregard of
its probable consequences." Burdette, 335
Ga.App. at 195 (2) (footnote and punctuation omitted).
Georgia Workmens' Compensation Act ("the Act")
was enacted in 1920. Ga. L. 1920, p. 167. At the time,