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 the Law Offices of Nathaniel F. Hansford, 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.