In a recent opinion, a state supreme court held that an employee could receive increased workers’ compensation benefits years after his accident, even after a doctor testified that the employee’s condition had not changed. The employee worked at a community organization and suffered a back injury at work in 2007 when his van was hit from behind. He returned to work, but in 2010, he had to stop working due to the pain from the injury. The employee filed for workers’ compensation benefits. The employer disputed the claim, arguing he was not impaired. In 2010, a judge awarded the employee permanent partial disability benefits and found he had a physical impairment rating of 13%.
In 2014, the employee claimed that his condition had worsened and requested to reopen his case. The employee introduced medical reports from two other doctors. One doctor found the employee had a 47% permanent impairment rating, and the other found he had a 28% permanent impairment rating. The employer also introduced a medical report from a doctor who found the employee had a 23% permanent impairment rating. The second judge found the employee had a physical impairment rating of 23%.
The employer appealed the decision and argued that the second judge’s decision was not supported by the evidence. The employer claimed that the second ruling was wrong because the judge relied on the employer’s doctor, who said the employee’s permanent impairment rating had not changed since the first judge’s opinion in 2010. The employer’s doctor, who determined that the employee had a 23% impairment rating, also said he had a 23% impairment rating in 2010.
However, the court found the second judge’s decision was supported by the evidence. The court explained that the issue of the employee’s initial rating could not be revisited because it had already been decided. But at the second hearing, the employee only had to show an increase of impairment, such as the additional loss of the use of a body part. And even though the judge accepted the doctor’s opinion that the employee had a 23% impairment rating, the judge was free to believe or to discredit the doctor’s opinion that this rating had not changed since the initial hearing. The court explained that since the judge found the employee’s permanent physical impairment rating increased from 13% to 23%, the judge believed there was an increase in his impairment. Therefore, the judge’s opinion was supported by the evidence, and the increase was upheld.
Changes in Benefits
If a claimant’s injury changes, the amount of benefits can be increased or decreased based on the change. It is well settled that if Georgia’s Board of Workers’ Compensation issues an award, and the parties do not file an appeal within the allotted time, the issues decided generally cannot be challenged later. However, the benefits can be adjusted if there is a change in the claimant’s condition. A “change in condition” under the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act means a change in the “wage-earning capacity, physical condition, or status” of the claimant.
Contact a Workers’ Compensation Attorney
If you received workers’ compensation benefits but believe you may be entitled to an increase, contact a workers’ compensation attorney. At the Georgia law office of J. Franklin Burns, P.C., our attorneys have decades of collective experience handling workers’ compensation claims and 50 years of combined trial experience. To set up a free consultation, call us at 404-303-7770 or fill out our online form.