One Very Troublesome Aspect of The Law of Workers’ Compensation Is Generally Called “the Panel of Physicians” or “the Employer’s Posted Panel of Doctors”.
Georgia is one of only a handful of states that requires the employee, after sustaining a job injury, to use one of a list of doctors the employers provide for free treatment of the injuries.
What is quite true is that free treatment does not mean quality treatment. It is shameful how ill qualified these insurance designated doctors are. And even more so, how little they care about the patients that they treat. Forty years ago, the panel of doctors consisted of three doctors. Then, about twenty years ago, the panel was expanded to four doctors. About six years ago, the panel was expanded to require six doctors to be on the panel. Six (6) doctors are still far too few for my clients to make a meaningful choice. I would much prefer to require the employer to post a panel (if we have to have one at all) consisting of forty doctors, thereby giving my client a meaningful choice to choose from. Unfortunately, a list of forty panel doctors is a dream world for me.
In a case decided by the Court of Appeals on May 24, 2023, the injured worker argued that the panel was not properly posted. In O.C.G.A. 34-9-201 (c) the employee can choose whomever they want to treat them so long as the panel was improperly posted.
In this case the panel was in an unlit, locked supply closet in a local school (the employer).
The Administrative Law Judge at the State Board of Workers’ Compensation ruled that the worker (a teacher) had access to the supply closet and such a place was not “inadequate”.
The teacher and her lawyer appealed to the next two levels of appeal and lost each time. But finally, the Court of Appeals took a longer look at the facts and concluded as follows:
“The fact that the panel list was located in a technically “accessible” location did not mean that it was posted in a “prominent” conspicuous or easily seen location.” (Lilienthal v. JLK, Inc. A 23A 0290-5/24/2023)
The Court of Appeals remanded the case, meaning it has now been sent back to the State Board of Workers’ Compensation for a review of the facts again in light of the guidance provided by the Court of Appeals.
It is absolutely amazing to me that the three levels of courts before the Court of Appeals, would take such an ill-founded position to save the panel from being declared invalid. (thus allowing the worker to choose her own orthopedic surgeon).
By emphasizing the words “prominent and conspicuous” the Court of Appeals is adding a bit of common sense to the law surrounding this highly contested/litigated area. In my practice of workers’ compensation/injury law in Suwanee, Georgia, I find that the panel of doctor’s issue surfaces in about 1 out of 5 cases. Do remember that he who controls the doctors, controls the medical care and the direction of the case and claim.
This is why the issue of a valid panel of doctors remains highly contested with wide ranging consequences for the employer, the insurer and my client.