Appeals Court Holds Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation Decision Must be Upheld if Supported by the Evidence

file000921513512 morguefile melodi2.jpgIn Emory University v. Duval, a nurse sought workers’ compensation benefits from her employer after she injured her right shoulder while moving a hospital patient at work in December 2010. The following month, the nurse received a steroid injection in her right shoulder that was administered by an approved physician. One week later, the nurse returned to work. In February 2011, however, the nurse visited the same doctor, complaining of pain in her left shoulder. After receiving a steroid shot on her left side, the nurse once again began performing her regular assigned job duties.

In March 2011, the doctor ordered an MRI on the nurse’s left shoulder. After reviewing the results, he recommended that she undergo surgery to repair a tear in her rotator-cuff. In November 2011, the nurse underwent shoulder surgery and never returned to work. She was terminated in January 2013.

According to the nurse, she was unable to use her left arm for about eight weeks following surgery. She also claimed it was painful to rely on her right arm. As a result of her pain, the nurse received two more steroid injections in her right shoulder. Eventually, the approved physician recommended that the nurse undergo rotator-cuff surgery on her right shoulder as well.

At a workers’ compensation hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”),the nurse sought additional medical benefits for her right shoulder surgery, a determination letter stating her left shoulder harm was a work-related compensable injury, temporary total disability benefit payments, and legal fees. The hospital countered that the woman’s right shoulder harm was a temporary injury that had previously resolved. The woman’s former employer also argued that her left shoulder injury was not work-related. After listening to each party’s testimony and reviewing the medical evidence, the ALJ found that the nurse’s left shoulder injury was not compensable under Georgia workers’ compensation law. Despite this, the judge ruled that the woman’s right shoulder injury was compensable and issued an award for temporary total disability benefits as well as past and continuing medical care related to her right shoulder harm.

On appeal, the State Board of Workers’ Compensation reversed the ALJ’s finding that the woman’s right shoulder harm was work-related. According to the Board, the work injury resolved itself before the nurse discontinued working at the hospital. After that, the nurse filed an appeal with the superior court. The court then reversed the Board’s decision and remanded the case with instructions to accept the ALJ’s findings of fact or explain why it rejected the treating doctor’s medical opinion. Next, the hospital sought review by the Court of Appeals of Georgia.

The hospital argued before the appellate court that the superior court committed error when it failed to “give proper deference to the Board’s findings.” The appeals court stated the Board may substitute its own opinion for an ALJ’s findings of fact that are not supported by the record. The court also said the Board is permitted to substitute its own factual inferences in place of an ALJ’s conclusions under O.C.G.A. § 34-9-103(a). In contrast, a Georgia appellate court is not authorized to substitute its own opinion in place of the Board’s findings if they are supported by the evidentiary record. After holding that the superior court committed error when it overturned the Board’s decision, the Court of Appeals of Georgia reversed the lower court’s order.

If you were injured at a Georgia workplace, you are advised to discuss your right to recovery with a knowledgeable Atlanta workers’ compensation attorney. To schedule a confidential consultation with a seasoned Conyers workers’ compensation lawyer, call the Law Offices of Nathaniel F. Hansford at (770) 922-3660 today or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Emory University v. Duval, Ga: Court of Appeals 2015

Photo credit: melodi2, MorgueFile

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