Dec 22, 2014

Georgia Appeals Court Holds Workers’ Compensation Claim is Time Barred

The Georgia Court of Appeals has affirmed an administrative law judge’s
(“ALJ”) decision stating a man’s workers’ compensation
benefits claim was time barred. In
Lane v. Williams Plant Services, a man apparently suffered a back injury at work and began receiving workers’
compensation payments from his employer in 2008. About two years later,
the man’s employer reportedly suspended his benefits. In March 2010,
the man asked an ALJ to order his employer to recommence his benefit payments.
After stating the evidence offered to demonstrate the benefit payments
should begin again was insufficient, the ALJ recommended that an evidentiary
hearing be held. Instead, the injured worker did nothing for nearly two years.

In March 2012, the man requested a hearing regarding the payment of certain
medical expenses he incurred in April 2010 and reinstating his workers’
compensation benefits. After the man’s hearing, the ALJ determined
that the man’s benefits claim was barred by the two-year statute
of limitations included in OCGA §
34-9-104(b). In general, a statute of limitations is the period of time during which
an injured person such as a worker may file a claim for damages or other
compensation. In the workers’ compensation context, an employee
who fails to file a workplace injury claim within the prescribed time
frame will be permanently barred from collecting financial benefits.

According to the ALJ, the worker’s claim was filed too late because
the statute of limitations began to run when the man’s last benefit
payment was mailed to him. The ALJ also stated the man’s notice
for a hearing was submitted beyond the statute of limitations, even if
it began to run on the actual date of the benefit suspension. Despite
this, the ALJ ruled that the man’s employer was responsible for
payment of his April 2010 medical expenses because a worker may receive
treatment from any physician he or she chooses.

The worker appealed the ALJ’s holding with regard to his benefit
payments, and his employer cross-appealed over the man’s medical
bills. Although the Appellate Division of the State Board of Worker’s
Compensation upheld the ALJ’s ruling on the man’s benefits
claim, it overturned his order that the man’s medical expenses be
paid by his employer. According to the Appellate Division, the employer
was not responsible for the medical bills because the man unilaterally
changed healthcare providers even though his employer and his authorized
doctor did not terminate care. A Superior Court affirmed the Appellate
Division’s holding, and the worker filed an appeal with the Georgia
Court of Appeals.

First, the appellate court dismissed the man’s argument that his
benefits claim was not time barred. According to the appeals court, a
Georgia court must defer to an agency’s statutory interpretation
as long as it is reasonable and does not contradict legislative intent.
The court held that it would defer to the ALJ’s decision regarding
when the statute of limitations began to run because it was reasonable.
Additionally, the Court of Appeals disagreed with the man’s claim
that Georgia case law required the ALJ to calculate when the statute of
limitations began to run differently.

Next, the Georgia appellate court held that the man failed to provide sufficient
evidence to support his assertion that his March 2010 motion should have
been treated as a timely request under OCGA § 34-9-104(b). The court
stated the burden of providing a sufficient record for appellate review
is on the party alleging an error was made. Since there was no evidence
to support the man’s argument that his benefits claim was not time
barred, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the ALJ’s decision
on this issue.

Finally, the appeals court addressed the worker’s claim that his
employer was responsible for his medical expenses under Georgia law. According
to the court, the Appellate Division relied upon incomplete evidence when
it determined the man’s employer was not responsible for his medical
bills. In addition, the court found that both the ALJ and the Appellate
Division failed to consider whether the medical treatment at issue was
related to the man’s workplace injury. Since it was unclear from
the record whether the man’s medical expenses were related to his
workplace harm, the Georgia Court of Appeals remanded the case for further
proceedings on the issue of the man’s April 2010 healthcare expenses.

Successfully navigating Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws
can be tough. If you were seriously injured in a workplace accident, a
knowledgeable Atlanta
workers’ compensation attorney may be able to help. To discuss your rights with a caring Conyers
workers’ compensation lawyer, call the Law Offices of Nathaniel
F. Hansford at (770) 922-3660 or contact us online today.

Additional Resources:

Lane v. Williams Plant Services, Ga: Court of Appeals 2014

Photo credit: LilJoel, MorgueFile