Georgia Employee Denied Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Workplace Stroke

DSC07870-Sat Color Boost-1 morguefile dodgertonskillhause.jpgIn Save-A-Lot Food Stores v. Amos, a Georgia man sought workers’ compensation benefits from the grocery store where he worked after suffering an apparent stroke on the job. According to the man, the medical condition occurred while he was unloading 15- to 60-pound pallets at work. While doing so, the man reportedly became dizzy and confused. A co-worker transported the man to a local hospital after he developed a severe headache, and the left side of his body became weak.

At a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), the worker’s family doctor testified that work-related stress likely contributed to the man’s stroke. In addition, she stated the condition may have been exacerbated by the employee’s diabetes, tobacco use, and several other factors. In contrast, a neurologist stated an MRI performed on the worker did not indicate that he suffered a stroke at all. The neurologist also said it was unclear whether stress has an actual effect on an individual’s stroke risk. A second neurologist who treated the employee apparently made similar statements at the hearing.

Following the workers’ compensation hearing, the ALJ denied the employee’s benefits request. According to the ALJ, the worker failed to demonstrate that he suffered a stroke, nor did he show his condition was caused by job-related stress. The man then appealed the ALJ’s decision to the appellate division of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. On appeal, the man argued he was unfairly held to a heightened standard of proof by the ALJ. After stating the ALJ’s decision was supported by the credible evidence, the appellate division ordered the ALJ’s statement regarding the purported heightened standard of evidence the worker was required to demonstrate stricken from his order.

Next, the superior court overturned the appellate division’s decision and ruled the ALJ committed error. According to the court, the appellate division failed to sufficiently correct the error and improperly adopted the judge’s findings of fact. Because of this, the superior court remanded the worker’s benefits request for a new trial. After that, the employer sought review by the Court of Appeals of Georgia.

First, the appellate court stated the findings of the Board must be upheld as long as they are supported by any evidence. The court added that the evidence must be construed in favor of the prevailing party The appeals court also said it was not permitted to act as a fact finder in lieu of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. After that, the court addressed the applicable burden of proof under OCGA § 34-9-1 (4).

Under Georgia law, a stroke is not a compensable injury unless an employee produces “some medical evidence to support a claim for benefits.” Because of this, the Court of Appeals stated the ALJ did not impose a higher burden of proof on the worker than that enumerated in the Workers’ Compensation Act. Also, the court noted that the ALJ cited the appropriate standard three separate times in his order.

Next, the appellate court held the judge applied the right standard of proof to the case, even though he stated the employee was required to meet a higher standard of proof when discussing the medical evidence requirement related to stroke compensability. Similarly, the court said the appellate division applied the correct standard of proof to the man’s benefits claim. Since the ALJ’s decision was supported by credible evidence, the Court of Appeals of Georgia ultimately reversed the superior court’s decision.

If you suffered an Atlanta workplace injury, you should speak with a hardworking workers’ compensation lawyer about your rights. To schedule a confidential consultation with a caring Georgia workers’ compensation attorney today, do not hesitate to call the Law Offices of Nathaniel F. Hansford at (770) 922-3660 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Save-A-Lot Food Stores v. Amos, Ga: Court of Appeals 2015

Photo credit: DodgertonSkillhause, MorgueFile