Archive for July, 2011

Georgia Court of Appeals Revisits Standard of Review in Workers’ Compensation Appeals

In Bonus Stores, Inc. v. Hensley, 2011 WL 1238420 (Ga.App., 2011), an ALJ granted TTD benefits after finding that the claimant had sustained a catastrophic injury. In its award, the ALJ relied on the conclusions of the claimant’s family physician and vocational specialist that the claimant could not perform any jobs in the national economy. On appeal, the appellate division conducted a de novo review of the entire record and noted that other physicians and specialists had more recently concluded that the claimant could work with no or few restrictions and reversed the ALJ’s award of catastrophic designation. The claimant appealed and the superior court found that the appellate division erred by improperly applying a de novo standard of review and that the application of the correct standard required it to uphold the ALJ’s award.

On appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeals noted that pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 34-9-103(a), the ALJ’s findings of fact “shall be accepted…where such findings are supported by a preponderance of competent and credible evidence” and the appellate division is limited to the evidence that was received by the ALJ. However, if after assessing the evidence in the record, the appellate division concludes that the award does not meet the statutes’ evidentiary standards, it may substitute its own alternative findings for those of the ALJ. The appellate division is authorized to draw factual conclusions different from those reached by the ALJ. In reversing the superior court, the Georgia Court of Appeals found that, after weighing the evidence received by the ALJ, the appellate division concluded that the preponderance of evidence did not support a finding of a catastrophic injury. Therefore, the appellate division substituted its own findings for those of the ALJ, as it was authorized to do.

The Court went on to point out that unlike the appellate division, the superior court performs a more limited review. The factual findings of the appellate division, when supported by “any evidence,” are conclusive and binding on the superior court and it may not substitute itself as a fact-finding body in lieu of the appellate division. Therefore, because there was “some evidence” that Claimant’s injury was not catastrophic, the superior court erred in reversing the appellate division.

In a case decided the following day, the Georgia Court of Appeals reaffirmed its holding in Hensley. In Georgia Mount Excavation, Inc. v. Dobbins, 2011 WL 1287902 (Ga.App., 2011), the appellate division reversed an ALJ’s award of TTD benefits and the claimant appealed to the superior court, which concluded that the evidence did not support the decision of the appellate division and reinstated the ALJ’s award. The Georgia Court of Appeals held that because the record contained “some competent evidence” to support the findings of the appellate division, the superior court had no authority to set aside the decision.

As these cases demonstrate, with respect to workers’ compensation appeals, the appellate division has discretion to substitute its own findings for that of the ALJ, whereas the superior court’s review is limited by the highly deferential “any evidence” standard.

For more information, please contact Timothy Buckley III, Esq. at (404) 633-9230.


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