New Georgia Supreme Court Ruling on Workers’ Compensation

Our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys always watch new Georgia Supreme Court rulings closely, especially when they might possibly affect our clients. Last week, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Arby’s Restaurant Group Inc. et al. v. McRae, which held that employers may obtain health information from an injured worker’s treating doctor without that worker’s presence or his/her attorney’s presence. This overturned the appellate court’s ruling that injured workers are not required to allow this in order to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.

The McRae case is about Laura McRae, an Arby’s employee who accidentally drank a cup of lye in a break room in 2006. She suffered third degree burns to her esophagus, and Arby’s paid workers’ compensation benefits. As part of her claim, Ms. McRae signed a form allowing access to her medical records. Her doctor then issued a report saying she had attained maximum medical improvement and she still suffered from 65 percent permanent partial disability. After obtaining the report, Arby’s tried to meet with the doctor alone, but the doctor refused to do so without Ms. McRae or her attorney’s consent.

Arby’s continued down this path, and filed a motion for an order from the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation forcing Ms. McRae to sign a form allowing the ex-parte communication between the doctor and Arby’s counsel. An administrative law judge agreed with Arby’s, as did the trial court. However, the appeals court reversed the original rulings, and then the case went before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court stated, in a judgment written by Justice Thompson, “We believe a complete prohibition on all ex-parte communications would be inconsistent with the policy favoring full disclosure in workers’ compensation cases, as well as the goal of our workers’ compensation statute of providing equal access to relevant information within an efficient and streamlined proceeding so as not to delay the payment of benefits to an injured employee.” In tempering this, the Court noted that the Board of Workers’ Compensation should take into account the need to protect an employee’s privacy interest in information the privilege for which has not been waived, unlike Ms. McRae’s situation as she signed a general release of her medical records beforehand. The Court also noted that, while a doctor is obligated to provide the relevant medical information within a reasonable time, he or she can still refuse to be interviewed ex-parte if he or she so wishes. The doctor can also require that his or her attorney be present, or the employee and/or his or her counsel be present, or that the interview be recorded or videotaped.

Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Attorney
If you or a loved one has been hurt on the job, contact the personal injury lawyers at Sammons & Carpenter. Our attorneys can help you understand your case and possible ways to move forward with your workers’ compensation claim. We understand the statutes and any new legal developments, such as the McRae case, and are experienced in working in this area of the law. So please call us at 404-814-8948, or fill out our confidential online case evaluation form for a free consultation.

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