(a) In the event of a catastrophic injury, the employer shall furnish the employee entitled to benefits under this chapter with reasonable and necessary rehabilitation services. The employer either shall appoint a registered rehabilitation supplier or give reasons why rehabilitation is not necessary within 48 hours of the employer’s acceptance of the injury as compensable or notification of a final determination of compensability, whichever occurs later. If it is determined that rehabilitation is required under this Code section, the employer shall have a period of 20 days from the date of notification of that determination within which to select a rehabilitation supplier. If the employer fails to select a rehabilitation supplier within such time period, a rehabilitation supplier shall be appointed by the board to provide services at the expense of the employer. The rehabilitation supplier appointed to a catastrophic injury case shall have the expertise which, in the judgment of the board, is necessary to provide rehabilitation services in such case.
(b) A change in the designated rehabilitation supplier shall be made only with approval of the board. Any party to the case may request the board for a change in rehabilitation supplier. The request shall be in a form and manner prescribed by rule of the board and copies of the request shall be served on all parties and each involved rehabilitation supplier. Written objections to the request for a change in rehabilitation supplier may be filed with the board during the 15 day period following the date shown on the certificate of service and the board shall resolve such objections.
(c) The refusal of the employee without reasonable cause to accept rehabilitation shall entitle the board in its discretion to suspend or reduce the compensation otherwise payable to such employee unless, in the opinion of the board, the circumstances justify the refusal, as determined in the manner provided under Code Section 34-9-100. The board may require recommendations from a panel of specialists in determining whether or not suspension or reduction of compensation is justified.
(d) Fees of rehabilitation suppliers and the reasonableness and necessity of their services shall be subject to the approval of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. All rehabilitation suppliers shall file with the board all forms required by the board. No rehabilitation supplier shall bill an employee for authorized rehabilitation services. The board may require recommendations from a panel of appropriate peers of the rehabilitation supplier in determining whether the fees submitted and necessity of services rendered were reasonable. The recommendations of the panel of appropriate peers shall be evidence of the reasonableness of fees and necessity of service which the board may consider.
(e) Failure of the employee’s attorney to cooperate with the rehabilitation supplier may result in the suspension or reduction of the fees provided in Code Section 34-9-108 if, in the judgment of the board, the failure to cooperate hindered the restoration of the employee to suitable employment.
(f) Any rehabilitation supplier shall have a certification or license as set forth by board rule and shall be registered with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. The board shall have the authority to refuse to register an applicant as a rehabilitation supplier, to remove a rehabilitation supplier from a case, to require corrective actions of a rehabilitation supplier, to assess penalties as provided under Code Section 34-9-18 against a rehabilitation supplier, or to suspend or revoke the board registration of a rehabilitation supplier for failure to comply with this chapter or the rules and regulations of the board or the standards of ethics of the applicable licensing or certifying body. Revocation of registration shall be determined in a hearing before an administrative law judge and an adverse decision may be appealed as provided under Code Sections 34-9-103 and 34-9-105. The board shall establish by rule based upon recognized qualifications, educational standards, and competency in the field of rehabilitation suppliers, as determined and set out by the board, those persons who will be authorized to provide rehabilitation services to injured employees under this chapter.
(g) “Catastrophic injury” means any injury which is one of the following:
(1) Spinal cord injury involving severe paralysis of an arm, a leg, or the trunk;
(2) Amputation of an arm, a hand, a foot, or a leg involving the effective loss of use of that appendage;
(3) Severe brain or closed head injury as evidenced by:
(A) Severe sensory or motor disturbances;
(B) Severe communication disturbances;
(C) Severe complex integrated disturbances of cerebral function;
(D) Severe disturbances of consciousness;
(E) Severe episodic neurological disorders; or
(F) Other conditions at least as severe in nature as any condition provided in subparagraphs (A) through (E) of this paragraph;
(4) Second or third degree burns over 25 percent of the body as a whole or third degree burns to 5 percent or more of the face or hands;
(5) Total or industrial blindness; or
(A) Any other injury of a nature and severity that prevents the employee from being able to perform his or her prior work and any work available in substantial numbers within the national economy for which such employee is otherwise qualified; provided, however, if the injury has not already been accepted as a catastrophic injury by the employer and the authorized treating physician has released the employee to return to work with restrictions, there shall be a rebuttable presumption, during a period not to exceed 130 weeks from the date of injury, that the injury is not a catastrophic injury. During such period, in determining whether an injury is catastrophic, the board shall give consideration to all relevant factors including, but not limited to, the number of hours for which an employee has been released. A decision granting or denying disability income benefits under Title II or supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act shall be admissible in evidence and the board shall give the evidence the consideration and deference due under the circumstances regarding the issue of whether the injury is a catastrophic injury; provided, however, that no presumption shall be created by any decision granting or denying disability income benefits under Title II or supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.
(B) Once an employee who is designated as having a catastrophic injury under this subsection has reached the age of eligibility for retirement benefits as defined in 42 U.S.C. Section 416(l), as amended March 2, 2004, there shall arise a rebuttable presumption that the injury is no longer a catastrophic injury; provided, however, that this presumption shall not arise upon reaching early retirement age as defined in 42 U.S.C. Section 416(1), as amended March 2, 2004. When using this presumption, a determination that the injury is no longer catastrophic can only be made by the board after it has conducted an evidentiary hearing.
The rehabilitation supplier appointed to a catastrophic injury case shall have the expertise which, in the judgment of the board, is necessary to provide rehabilitation services in such case.
(h) In the event of an injury that is not catastrophic, the parties may elect that the employer will provide a rehabilitation supplier on a voluntary basis for so long as the parties agree in writing. The rehabilitation supplier utilized by the parties must hold one of the certifications or licenses specified in subsection (f) of this Code section and be registered with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation or have the expertise which, in the judgment of the board, is necessary to provide rehabilitation services in the case.
(i) Subsequent to either an employer’s designating an employee’s injury as catastrophic or a board determination as to the catastrophic or noncatastrophic nature of an employee’s injury, either party may request a new determination, based on reasonable grounds, as to the catastrophic or noncatastrophic nature of the employee’s injury.