Hilley & Frieder, Georgia Personal Injury Attorneys – LawFuel.com A recent Georgia appeals court case ruled that injured workers do not need to give permission for their doctors to speak with their employers’ attorney outside of their presence before they can receive workers’ compensation benefits for an on-the-job injury.
The case highlights an injured worker who suffered an esophageal burn when she swallowed lye left in a cup similar to the one she always used. She signed a release of medical information and her doctor prepared a report. However, when the employer’s attorney sought to speak with the doctor, he refused until his patient provided express approval. The appellate court found that the injured worker was still entitled to benefits, because she did not need to authorize her treating physician to speak with her employer’s attorney. The court concluded that medical privacy in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act extends to workers’ compensation proceedings.
While the holding in this case is important, a more common concern is the influence of medical professionals who advocate on behalf of insurance company interests.
Insurance Company Nurse or Case Manager
The insurance company, in many of these types of cases, will hire and assign a nurse or case manager to a particular workers’ compensation claim. These medical professionals will then come to scheduled doctor’s appointments, many times before an injured worker has had the opportunity to speak with a workers’ compensation attorney.
For instance, a doctor may see an injured delivery driver who suffered a lower back injury while on the job. He cannot return to work, because the duties of his job involve lifting. The nurse or case manager, who is at the appointment, may mention how much the company appreciates the worker and that a light-duty office job will accommodate the injury.
However, this may be a conflict of interest. A nurse working on behalf of the insurer has an incentive to get the worker back on the job as soon as possible. Once the worker is back on the job, the insurer no longer needs to pay the workers’ compensation benefits.
In this instance, the delivery driver may be given a data entry job to accommodate the restricted mobility; however, he is making his past wage. The employer may not find it economically viable to pay the higher wage especially for a lower skill job. Further, the delivery driver may not have the right skills to complete the new duties. If this continues, the employer can generally fire the employee without consequences.
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