Even if the employer or insurer has accepted an injured worker's claim for workers' compensation benefits, the injured worker can find herself involved in a court case for seemingly any no reason. The employer and insurer have the right to request a hearing to determine eligibility for workers' compensation benefits essentially at any time.
Before a court can render a decision on a matter that has come before it, the court must have jurisdiction. This includes both personal jurisdiction over the parties and subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute between the parties. In Georgia, the tribunal that has jurisdiction in cases arising under the state's workers' compensation laws is the State Board of Workers' Compensation. Typically, an administrative law judge makes the final award or order in such a case, but the Board's Appellate Division has jurisdiction over an appeal from the administrative law judge's decision. If a party is dissatisfied with the Board's decision, there is a possibility for further review by the courts.
Facts of the Case
In a recent case, the plaintiff was a worker who was hurt on the job in 2013. The worker's employer accepted the injury as compensable and paid benefits to the woman, but later requested a hearing to determine continued entitlement to certain benefits. While the matter was still pending, the employer requested a protective order, asserting that a piece of evidence should not be disclosed. The State Board of Workers' Compensation granted the employer's request (first through an administrative law judge and then through an amended order of the Board's Appellate Division).
The injured worker further appealed the matter to the superior court. The superior court dismissed the woman's appeal, holding that it could not review the matter because a final order or judgment was not yet before it. The worker further appealed to the Court of Appeals for the State of Georgia.
Decision of the Appeals Court
The court of appeals refused the worker's request for discretionary review. According to the court, there was nothing in Georgia's workers' compensation scheme that permitted an interlocutory appeal. Since the order from which the injured worker sought relief was not a workers' compensation "final award, order, judgment, or decision," the court found that the woman's application presented nothing appropriate for its review. Accordingly, the court dismissed the matter as premature.
Although the court's opinion did not disclose the particular evidence for which the employer sought a protective order, the injured woman's workers' compensation case will be adversely affected if the information at issue is pertinent to her claim. Because of the court of appeals' decision, the injured woman must now go back to "square one" and have her case heard, without the evidence in question, allow the administrative law judge to rule, appeal the matter to the Board's Appeals Division, and then - and only then - bring her appeal back into the court system if she believes the lower tribunals ruled improperly.
To Get Legal Assistance with an Atlanta Workers' Compensation Claim
If you or a loved one has been hurt on the job, you should consider speaking with an attorney about your case as soon as possible. An experienced Atlanta workers' compensation lawyer at the Law Offices of T. Andrew Miller can advise you of both your legal rights and your employer's responsibilities, as well as represent you in front of the workers' compensation board if your case gets called into court unexpectedly. To get started, call us at (678) 894-4758 for a free consultation regarding your claim.