In July the Supreme Court of Georgia heard arguments in the case of McRae v. Arby’s Restaurant Group, and the court’s decision is eagerly anticipated by workers’ compensation attorneys across the state.
At issue is whether an injured worker can stop her employer’s attorneys from having a private conversation with her doctor.
The injured worker in the case, Ms. McRae, suffered an extremely serious injury involving third-degree burns to her esophagus. After several years of treatment her doctor assigned a 65% permanent impairment rating. Upon receiving this rating, the employer’s attorneys attempted to schedule a private meeting with Ms. McRae’s doctor, but the doctor refused to meet with the employer’s attorneys until Ms. McRae gave him permission to do so.
When Ms. McRae declined to sign an authorization allowing a private meeting between her employer’s attorneys and her doctor, her employer’s attorneys asked an administrative law judge for a ruling. The judge first ordered Ms. McRae to sign the release form and then, when she did not do so, removed her case from the active hearing calendar as a sanction. Both the appellate division of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation and the superior court affirmed the judge’s decision.
The Court of Appeals, however, overturned the decision of the lower courts. In so doing, it concluded that an injured worker is not required by the Workers’ Compensation Act to authorize her doctor to talk to her employer’s attorney in exchange for receiving benefits. It further noted that “[g]iving the employer’s counsel unbridled access to ex parte communications with an employee’s treating physician would create numerous potential dangers . . . among them the potential to influence the physician’s testimony, to probe into irrelevant but highly prejudicial matters, and the disclosure of information never disclosed to the patient.”
The Supreme Court is presently reviewing the Court of Appeals decision, and its ruling will have important implications for the future medical privacy of injured workers in Georgia.
The Court of Appeals’ decision can be read here: McRae v. Arby’s.