State News : Georgia

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Rayford H. Taylor
Of Counsel
Casey Gilson P.C.
Six Concourse Parkway, Suite 2200
Atlanta, Georgia 30328
770-512-0300 -Ext. 529
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Decostar Industries, Inc., et al. v. Juarez

Factual findings of the State Board of Workers' Compensation will be upheld if supported by any evidence, and the Board's ruling will not be reversed on appeal based solely on the facts.

The record reflects Ms. Sonia Juarez began working on Decostar's production line in 2006.  Her duties included moving automotive bumpers weighing approximately 15 pounds from the floor to a chest-level bench; using a blade to cut two holes in them; sanding them; placing them at a separate work station; and later placing them into a mold.  In August 2009, she began to experience pain in her right shoulder and arm, and reported it to her employer.  Because Decostar did not offer medical treatment, she saw her own general practice physician, Dr. Gonzalez, who referred her to an orthopedist, Dr. Anthony Colpini.  Dr. Colpini, on January 20, 2010, placed Juarez on work restrictions.  He concluded that her injuries, while not caused by work, were aggravated by her job duties.

Ms. Juarez resigned on April 13, 2010 because of the injury to her right shoulder.  She saw Dr. Robert Karsch  who diagnosed her with, among other things, rotator cuff tendinopathy and impingement syndrome, finding that the direct cause of her shoulder injury and pain was the repetitive nature of her job, as opposed to being an aggravation of a pre-existing condition.  Dr. Duncan Wells, on behalf of Ms. Juarez, issued an opinion agreeing with Dr. Karsch that the injuries were a direct result of her job duties.

After a hearing, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) concluded Ms. Juarez aggravated a long-standing right shoulder condition by performing her repetitive job duties; but she was not entitled to temporary total disability benefits from the date of her resignation because light-duty work remained available to her; she was not entitled to change her treating physician from Dr. Colpini to Dr. Karsch; and Decostar was only responsible for MRI expenses.  Juarez appealed, and the Board's appellate division adopted the ALJ's decision.  Juarez then appealed to the superior court, which, after a hearing, found in her favor, reversing the findings of the Board's appellate division.

On appeal to the District Court, Decostar argued the trial court's decision to designate the claim as a new injury rather than an aggravation of a pre-existing injury resulted from its improper reinterpretation of evidence and misapplication of the standard of review.

The ALJ in the case chose to believe Dr. Colpini, although his testimony was contradicted by other evidence.  The District Court ruled because courts reviewing a decision of the Appellate Division are not authorized to weigh the evidence in the first instance or substitute their own findings of fact for those of the Appellate Division, the superior court had no authority to interfere with the decision of the Appellate Division.  The ALJ and appellate division were authorized to conclude Ms. Juarez had a pre-existing condition that was aggravated by her job duties.  Thus, the trial court erred when it found that the record contains “no evidence” that Juarez suffered from medical conditions that predate her work for Decostar.  We reverse.

The District Court reversed the Superior Court's ruling and upheld the ALJ and the Appellate Division's denial of Ms. Juarez's claims.