May 27, 2015

Georgia Employee Denied Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Workplace Stroke

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