Can a workers’ comp appellate court reinterpret the facts of my case?

Most of the time, if a case is being heard on appeal, that court is looking for mistakes made in application of the law (or in the law itself, if it’s an appellate court that’s allowed to make such a ruling), but the first level of appeals for a workers’ compensation case in Georgia can actually change the Administrative Law Judge’s findings of fact from the original workers’ comp hearing.  This is despite the fact that such a review board will not have had the benefit of personally hearing the claimant’s or other witnesses’ testimony in live court (but will rather be reading it in a transcript).  However, that’s how we’re set up in GA.

A fairly recent decision (issued in February 2015) reiterated this in a case involving a nurse with multiple shoulder injuries (something I see all the time in my workers comp practice) titled Emory University v. Duval.  While the nurse won at the lower court, the Appellate Division of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation (commonly referred to as “the board” or the “full board”) reversed it, using an opinion from a doctor chosen and paid for by the insurer to review the treating doctor’s medical records (this doctor, as expected, said the injury/injuries were unrelated to work).

The Superior Court reversed the Appellate Division, but the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed again, finding that the Appellate Division can cancel or annul the original judge’s findings of fact and conclusions of law if it believes these findings not to be supported by a preponderance (a majority) of the evidence. So, the injured nurse was denied her workers’ comp benefits, and the authority of the Appellate Division to substitute its factual findings for an administrative law judge’s was solidified.

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