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September 5, 2013Commission Keeps Claimant's Counsel and Recording Devices out of Employer's Medical Evaluations
by Merrilee Harrell
A recent decision of the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission concluded that claimant’s counsel may not attend and record an employer’s independent medical evaluation (EME) unless the examining physician consents. InASRC Energy Services, Inc. v. Kollman, AWCAC Decision No. 186 (August 21, 2013), the Commission reversed an interlocutory decision of the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board that injured worker Jeffrey Kollman may record an EME and have a witness present despite the objection of the employer’s physicians. Kollman v. ASRC Energy Services, Inc., AWCB Decision No. 13-0076 (June 27, 2013). The Board had relied onLangfeldt-Haaland v. Saupe Enterprises, 768 P.2d 1144 (Alaska 1989), which held that a civil litigant had a right to record a court-ordered Rule 35 medical evaluation and have his attorney present during the evaluation. On appeal, the Commission noted that Civil Rule 35 is significantly different from AS 23.30.095(e) of the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act. AS 23.30.095(e) states that “The employee shall... submit to an examination by a physician or surgeon of the employer’s choice...” which, the Commission noted, leaves the choice of EME physician exclusively with the employer. A Rule 35 medical evaluation, in contrast, may be ordered by a judge “only on motion for good cause shown and upon notice... to all parties and shall specify the time, place, manner, conditions, and scope of the examination and the person or persons by whom it is to be made.”
The Commission also noted that Langfeldt-Haaland was a 3-2 decision that explicitly limited its holding to Civil Rule 35 medical evaluations. The majority had argued the importance of allowing counsel to “observe shortcomings and improprieties during the examination which could be the subject of inquiries on cross-examination at trial; and ... [to] object to questions posed to the plaintiff during the examination that concern privileged information.” The dissenting judges pointed out that “adopting such a rule could have a chilling effect on otherwise reputable physicians performing medical examinations.” The Commission found the dissent’s position more persuasive, and also took into account a survey of SIME physicians that showed a significant percentage of the physicians surveyed would decline to perform evaluations if they were required to allow the evaluation to be witnessed and recorded. Requiring EME evaluations to be witnessed and recorded would thus have a chilling effect on the employer’s choice of physician if the employer’s choice was limited by such a requirement.
The commission emphasized that the plain language of AS 23.30.095(e) gives the employer the exclusive choice of EME physician, noting that the statute “does not say that the choice of an EME physician is exclusively the employer’s, provided that the employer chooses a physician who would allow witnessing and recording of the EME.” The commission concluded that such a restriction would interfere with the employer’s choice of physician as contemplated by AS 23.30.095(e). Kollman has appealed the Commission’s ruling to the Alaska Supreme Court.
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========RWGB seeks to provide the latest information on workers' compensation law in Alaska. The information provided above is based upon the decision of the Alaska Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission and is subject to change on appeal. RWGB will issue an updated newsletter should the Alaska Supreme Court overrule the Commission's decision.
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