Jun 16, 2016

Georgia Court Reviews Decision in Workers’ Compensation Case, Finding Decision Against Hurt Worker Based on Competent Evidence

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed whether the findings of
an Administrative Law Judge in the Trial Division of the State Board of
Worker’s Compensation should have been set aside as being contrary
to law. At issue in this workers’ compensation
case boasting a complex procedural history was whether a reviewing court had
properly ruled on the termination of an injured worker’s benefits,
and her status as no longer disabled.

Donna Logan suffered injuries during the course and scope of her employment
in Georgia. She was working for J&R Schugel Trucking, Inc. Since her
employer was located in Minnesota, Ms. Logan received workers’ compensation
benefits according to Minnesota law. A few months later, Ms. Logan’s
benefits were suspended due to insufficient evidence of her disability.
Ms. Logan filed a workers’ compensation claim in Georgia to recommence
her medical care and income benefits.

J&R and its workers’ compensation insurance company argued the
evidence did not support Ms. Logan’s allegation that she suffered
any disability, and she did not need continuing medical treatment. An
administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled that Ms. Logan was entitled to receive
ongoing medical benefits, although she did not have a continuing disability
from her injury.

J&R appealed, and the Board’s Appellate Division affirmed the ruling
that there was no disability. They did, however, substitute alternative
findings and held Ms. Logan was not entitled to continuing medical benefits.
The Fulton County Superior Court, on appeal, set aside the Appellate Division
decision on the ground that it was contrary to law. The Superior Court
cited OCGA § 34-9-105(c)(5). J&R appealed this order.

The Georgia Court of Appeal stated that when Ms. Logan appealed, she argued
that the Appellate Division acted in excess of or without its powers,
or that its award was contrary to law. The Superior Court found the decision
was contrary to law because the Appellate Division’s finding that
Ms. Logan was not entitled to medical benefits was based on a record that
did not include the medical report that should have been filed and was
critical to complete the record.

The Georgia Court of Appeal found no reason for the Superior Court to set
aside the Appellate Division’s order and deem the decision contrary
to law. In fact, the record showed that when the hearing reconvened before
the ALJ, there was no evidence that the ALJ objected to opening the record
to receive Ms. Logan’s medical report. The record, according to the
Board, showed that Ms. Logan intended to present her report before the
Board at a future hearing.

Specifically, OCGA § 34-9-103 (a) states that the Appellate Division
reviews evidence and that the Appellate Division shall accept the findings
of the ALJ when they are based on the preponderance of credible and competent
evidence. The Appellate Division held the ALJ did not err when it ruled
that Ms. Logan was not entitled to workers’ compensation income benefits
but found the evidence did not uphold their finding that Ms. Logan was
entitled to ongoing medical benefits.

Georgia law provides the Appellate Division can substitute its own findings
for those of the ALJ if the award does not satisfy legal standards. The
finding of the Appellate Division – that Ms. Logan was not entitled
to ongoing medical benefits – cannot be disturbed if there is supporting
evidence. Here, the Superior Court order that set aside the Appellate
Division decision was reversed because the evidence supported the findings
of the Appellate Division.

At Hansford McDaniel – Workers’ Compensation Attorneys, an experienced
workers’ compensation attorney can provide legal guidance and strong advocacy on behalf of your
right to compensation following a work-related injury. To schedule a free,
confidential consultation with a dedicated Atlanta workers’ compensation
lawyer, call our office today at (770) 922-3660 or contact us online.