McRae v. Arby's Restaurant Group, Inc., No. A11A1021 (Ga. Ct. App. 12/01/11).
Ruling: The Georgia Court of Appeals held that an injured worker was not required to authorize her treating physician to talk to her employer's lawyer ex parte in exchange for receiving benefits for her compensable injury.
What it means: In Georgia, an injured worker is not required to authorize her physician to conduct ex parte communications with her employer's attorney in exchange for continued benefits.
A worker in a restaurant suffered third-degree burns to her esophagus at work after mistakenly drinking lye that was left in the break room in a cup similar to one she used. The restaurant began paying income benefits. She authorized and consented to the release of her medical information that expired in 90 days. Her treating gastroenterologist prepared a medical report. The restaurant's attorneys tried to schedule an ex parte consultation with the doctor, but the doctor declined to meet with them absent express permission from the worker. The administrative law judge ordered the worker to expressly authorize her physician to speak with the restaurant's counsel, but she did not sign a release. The ALJ sanctioned her by removing her claim from the hearing calendar until she did so. The Georgia Court of Appeals held that the worker was not required to authorize her treating physician to speak to the restaurant's lawyer.
The worker argued that her right to medical privacy was protected. The court explained that an injured worker has no real choice in whether to participate in the workers' compensation process. Therefore, the court was cautious in extending the worker's waiver of her right to medical privacy. The court concluded that the medical privacy constraints of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act apply to workers' compensation proceedings.
The court said that a physician is not required to converse ex parte with an employer's attorney to share her mental impressions of the claim. The information to which an employer is entitled does not include ex parte communications.
A dissenting judge opined that the decision could inhibit an employer's ability to have easy access to a worker's pertinent medical information.
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January 5, 2012
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