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The Struggle Between Treating Doctors-Regarding Employee Work Status in Job Injury Cases

Burdine & Brown Sept. 20, 2023

Lately this issue has surfaced in a City of Atlanta workers’ compensation case. A police officer was injured in an on-the-job accident.

Kyle Johnson is the police officer. He was treated by a City Approved panel doctor. This doctor ultimately released Officer Johnson to work but only in a light duty capacity.

Johnson wanted a specialist’s opinion and the City authorized him to obtain this opinion from the Panel of Doctors kept by the City. This type of procedure happens in many cases. Usually, the first doctor is more of a general, clinical doctor, not suited to addressing the details of a specific injury, for example.

Unfortunately for Office Johnson, the specialist examined him and told him he could return to full duty work.

This pronouncement gave the City the opportunity to suspend the officer’s weekly workers’ compensation benefits. Apparently, the first doctor, probably the clinic doctor, disagreed with the specialist’s opinion and kept the officer on light duty work. This pronouncement would allow for the officer’s continuing receipt of weekly benefits because there are very few light duty jobs for police officers to do.

In my practice in Suwanee, Georgia, I find that the clinic doctor, the first line of treatment in a job injury case, is the one to usually say the injured person can return to work without restrictions. It is the specialist who orders more invasive testing and discovers further medical evidence of injury and thus disability.

The Court of Appeals three Judge panel held that the City’s interpretation of the stature in question “construes the regulatory text unnaturally” and “cuts against the statutory scheme’s philosophy.” These three judges stated that there is only one authorized treating physician (ATP) in a workers’ compensation case, and it was NOT the specialist.

These issues are quite important, not only because they define an employee’s medical status, but it involves the obligation of the employer to continue to make weekly payments to the employee of disability benefits.

So, this case came down to a decision as the who is the ATP. When the employee asks to be examined by another doctor, presumably a specialist, then does the authority of the ATP switch to the specialist? It should.

Again, in my practice of workers’ compensation in Suwanee, I try very hard to have the insurance company sign a document called WC-200A. This is an agreement as to who the ATP is. Still, even this document, having been agreed upon by all parties, could create confusion and ambiguity over who the final authority is.

The Court of Appeals decision has been appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia by the City of Atlanta. It will be six months until a decision will be reached by the Supreme Court of Georgia.