(a) Notice of hearing. The hearing shall be held as soon as practicable; provided, however, no hearing shall be scheduled less than 30 days nor more than 90 days from the date of the hearing notice. With regard to any request for a determination of noncatastrophic status in accordance with subparagraph (g)(6)(B) of Code Section 34-9-200.1, no hearing shall be scheduled less than 90 days after the hearing is requested.
(b) Place of hearing. If the injury or death occurred within this state, the hearing shall be held in the county where the injury or death occurred or in any contiguous county or in any county within 50 miles of the county of injury or death, unless otherwise agreed by the parties and authorized by the administrative law judge. If the injury or death occurred outside the state, the hearing may be held in the county of the employer’s residence or place of business or in any other county of the state, as determined in the discretion of the administrative law judge.
(c) Authority of administrative law judge. The administrative law judge conducting the hearing shall have, in addition to all powers necessary to implement this chapter, the following powers: to administer oaths and affirmations, to issue subpoenas, to rule upon offers of proof, to regulate the course of the hearing, to set the time and place for continued hearings, to fix the time for filing briefs, to dispose of motions to dismiss for lack of board jurisdiction, to rule on requests for continuance, to add or delete parties with or without motion, to issue interlocutory orders, to rule upon or dispose of all other motions, to appoint guardians under Code Section 34-9-226, to reprimand or exclude from the hearing any person for any indecorous or improper conduct committed in the presence of the administrative law judge, and to require any party to provide the board with the name of its legal representative, if any, within 21 days from the date of the hearing notice.
(d) Discovery procedures.
(1) Discovery procedures shall be governed and controlled by Chapter 11 of Title 9, the “Georgia Civil Practice Act.”
(2) The term “administrative law judge” shall be substituted for the word “court” when construing any procedural rule, provided that any administrative law judge shall seek enforcement of orders as stated in subsection (h) of this Code section.
(3) The administrative law judge may admit as evidence at the hearing and at all future hearings evidence obtained by depositions, interrogatories, or admissions of fact, whether or not the deponent is available to testify in person at the hearing and whether or not the evidence was taken originally for the purpose of discovery or evidence, or both.
(e) Conduct of hearing.
(1) The administrative law judge shall conduct the hearing in an informal manner consistent with the requirements of due process of law. Irrelevant, immaterial, and unduly repetitious evidence shall be excluded. The rules of evidence pertaining to the trial of civil nonjury cases in the superior courts of Georgia shall be followed unless otherwise provided in this chapter. A party may conduct such cross-examination as required for a full and true disclosure of the facts. Official notice may be taken of judicially cognizable facts, provided the parties are provided an opportunity to contest the material noticed.
(2) Any medical report or document signed and dated by an examining or treating physician or other duly qualified medical practitioner shall be admissible in evidence insofar as it purports to represent the history, examination, diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, or opinion relevant to any medical issue by the person signing the report, as if that person were present at the hearing and testifying as a witness, subject to the right of any party to object to the admissibility of any portion of the report and subject to the right of an adverse party to cross-examine the person signing the report and provide rebuttal testimony within the time allowed by the administrative law judge. The party tendering the medical report may, within the time allowed by the administrative law judge, also introduce the testimony of the person who has signed the medical report for the purpose of supplementing the report. It is the express intent of the General Assembly that the provisions of this paragraph be applied retroactively as well as prospectively.
(3) For the purposes of Code Section 34-9-104, a report on a form prescribed by the board or in a narrative form which substantially complies with the form prescribed by the board and which is signed and dated by a prospective employer shall be admissible in evidence in lieu of the oral testimony of such prospective employer insofar as it documents that the employee has applied for a position or positions suitable to the employee’s limitations or restrictions resulting from the work related injury and was not hired. Any party shall have the right to object to the admissibility of any portion of the report and an adverse party shall have the right to cross-examine the person signing the report and provide rebuttal testimony within the time allowed by the administrative law judge. The party tendering the report may, with the time allowed by the administrative law judge, also introduce the oral testimony of the person who has signed the report for the purpose of supplementing the report.
(4) A written laboratory test result report under Code Section 34-9-415 shall be admissible in evidence if accompanied by an affidavit from the laboratory confirming authenticity.
(5) Code Section 24-3-18 shall not apply to workers’ compensation claims filed under this chapter.
(f) Decision of the administrative law judge. Within 30 days following the completion of evidence, unless the time for filing the decision is extended by the board, the administrative law judge shall determine the questions and issues and file the decision with the record of the hearing. At the time of the filing a copy of the decision shall be mailed to all parties at their last known addresses. The decision of the administrative law judge shall be made in the form of a compensation award, appropriately titled to show its purpose and containing a concise report of the case, with findings of fact and conclusions of law and any other necessary explanation of the action taken. The administrative law judge may reconsider the official decision prior to its becoming final to correct apparent errors or omissions. The compensation award shall be final unless an appeal is filed in accordance with Code Section 34-9-103.
(g) Record of hearing. The hearing shall be reported by a designated reporter for the board, but the record of the hearing need not be transcribed unless timely application has been made to the board for an appeal from the decision of the administrative law judge. At any time, however, a party shall have a right to obtain a transcript of the record, upon payment to the reporter of the expense of transcription.
(h) Enforcement of orders of administrative law judge. In proceedings before the administrative law judge or the board, if any party or an agent or employee of a party disobeys or resists any lawful order or process; or neglects to produce, after having been ordered to do so, any pertinent book, paper, or document; or refuses to appear after having been subpoenaed; or, upon appearing, refuses to take the oath or affirmation as a witness; or, after taking the oath or affirmation, refuses to testify, the administrative law judge or the board shall have the same rights and powers given the court under Chapter 11 of Title 9, the “Georgia Civil Practice Act.” If any person not a party refuses as aforesaid, the administrative law judge or the board may certify the facts to the superior court of the county where the offense is committed for appropriate action or may impose the sanctions provided in Code Section 34-9-60.
(i) Address of record. Each employer and claimant shall maintain an up-to-date address with the board. Any notice required by this chapter shall be satisfied by the mailing of the notice to the address of record; provided, however, that mailing to an obsolete address, if not properly forwarded, shall not prejudice a claimant if it is established to the satisfaction of the administrative law judge or the board that at the time of the mailing the employer knew or should have known of a subsequent and proper address for the claimant.
(j) Notice to nonresident party.
(1) Any party subject to this chapter who is or who becomes a nonresident of this state at the time of or after the injury or death of an employee shall be deemed to have appointed irrevocably the executive director of the board as that party’s agent for service of notice or any other process in any proceeding under this chapter.
(2) Any notice or process served on the executive director shall have the same legal effect as if served upon the nonresident party personally within the state.
(3) The executive director or his or her designated agent shall immediately mail a copy of the notice or process to the last known address of the nonresident party.