We spend an incredible amount of time here at the Babcock Law Firm perusing blogs and periodicals from some of our colleagues from across the U.S. When we read this piece a few days ago from a firm a Georgia, it piqued our interest in relation to our workers’ compensation clients.
Although this particular story involved an employer rather than a worker, it serves to illustrate the importance of keeping track of all correspondence. As Ready Mix USA found out, ignoring notices can indeed put your case in jeopardy.
After failing to respond to a hearing notice, Ready Mix and its insurance company, Liberty Mutual, quickly found out the consequences. Failing to appear at the hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ) presiding over the case had no choice but to award the plaintiff (…employee Terrell B. Ross) full temporary disability benefits.
Ready Mix and Liberty Mutual tried to claim after the fact that they didn’t have adequate notice for the hearing.
Some background on the injury – in December 2009, Ross was using a sledgehammer when he started feeling acute pain and tightening in his back. He told his supervisor of the problem but was not referred to any physicians. About a week later, the pain returned so Ross reminded his supervisor. He was sent for an evaluation where it was discovered he had a lumbar and thoracic strain brought on by his job.
Ross was subsequently prescribed medication and physical therapy and ordered to take it easy.
A few weeks later, Ross chose a doctor authorized in Georgia to perform treatment. This doctor recommended a cervical MRI. After the MRI, the doctor referred the injured worker to an orthopedic spine specialist who recommended facet injections to his lower back. The specialist also ordered Ross to not work at all.
In light of these recommendations, Ross asked for a hearing with an ALJ to request the following:
- Authorization for a cervical MRI
- Lumbar facet injections
- Temporary total disability benefits
- 15% penalty for nonpayment
- Assessment of attorney fees and litigation costs
Ross also presented Ready Mix and Liberty Mutual written discovery requests for Admissions, Interrogatories, and Requests for Production of Documents.
The hearing was set for July 2010 but with his employer and their insurance company absent on the big day, the ALJ had no choice but to grant Ross’ requests.
Although Ready Mix and Liberty Mutual complained they didn’t have adequate notice, they requested permission to withdraw or amend their responses to the Request for Admission from the injured worker.
In the end, the Court of Appeals in Georgia rejected the motion on the grounds that records indicate the two companies were notified by both snail mail and e-mail. After re-evaluating the notices, the courts didn’t find any clerical issues with the notices and therefore couldn’t be blamed for the companies not responding to the requests.
Attorneys for Ross claim that Ready Mix or Liberty Mutual had not been in contact since the initial authorization for 3 doctors from the insurance adjuster.
It is possible Ready Mix and Liberty Mutual could have contested Ross’ claims.
But since they apparently dropped the ball in reading their mail, we’ll never know. Because of this mishap, both companies lost all subsequent appeals to their case.
This case should serve to illustrate – DON’T IGNORE ANY MAIL REGARDING YOUR CASE!!
Doing so could put your benefits in jeopardy. If you’re working with a workers’ comp attorney in Colorado, be sure you communicate ALL the facts of your case and provide copies of ALL correspondence from your employer and/or their insurance company.