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Emory University v. Duval

Court of Appeals of Georgia

February 10, 2015

EMORY UNIVERSITY
v.
DUVAL

Workers' compensation. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Goger.

Drew, Eckl & Farnham, H. Michael Bagley, for appellant.

Hilley & Frieder, Ronald L. Hilley, Mia I. Frieder, for appellee.

OPINION

Page 833

Dillard, Judge.

In this workers' compensation action, claimant Sandra Stennett Duval sought benefits from her former employer, Emory University, for what she claimed was aggravation of a compensable right-shoulder injury. The administrative-law judge (" ALJ" ) awarded benefits to Duval, but the Appellate Division of the State Board of Workers' Compensation (the " Board" ) reversed, finding that the aggravation of the right-shoulder injury was not work-related. The superior court then reversed and remanded to the Board, ordering it to address why it did not accept the evidence relied upon by the ALJ [330 Ga.App. 664] in awarding benefits. We granted Emory University's application for discretionary review and, because the superior court applied the incorrect standard of review in reversing the Board's award, we reverse.

The record reflects that Duval was employed with Emory University Hospital Midtown as a nurse from October 2008 until she was terminated in January 2013. Duval worked in the telemetry unit with cardiac patients when, on December 3, 2010, it is undisputed that she suffered a compensable injury to her right shoulder while lifting a patient. At that moment, Duval felt an " immediate pop" in her right shoulder.

Thereafter, in January 2011, Duval sought treatment from an approved workers' compensation doctor (who was an orthopaedic surgeon). This doctor administered a steroid injection to the right shoulder, and Duval returned to full-time work in the telemetry unit approximately one week later. Then, in February 2011, Duval returned to the orthopaedic surgeon because she was experiencing pain in her left shoulder, and she received a steroid injection in that shoulder before continuing to perform her regular job duties.

Nevertheless, Duval returned to the orthopaedic surgeon in March 2011, and he ordered an MRI of her left shoulder. The surgeon then recommended that Duval undergo surgery to her left shoulder to repair a rotator-cuff tear, which she did in November 2011. Duval never returned to work after the surgery to her left shoulder.

Following surgery, Duval was unable to use her left arm for eight weeks, and she testified that it was difficult and painful to solely rely upon her right arm. Therefore, in February 2012, Duval returned to the orthopaedic surgeon, and she received two more steroid injections to her right shoulder that year. When those injections failed to alleviate Duval's pain, the doctor ordered an MRI and then recommended surgery to repair a rotator-cuff tear in the right shoulder.

Thereafter, Duval requested a workers' compensation hearing, seeking (1) additional medical benefits for her December 3, 2010 compensable right-shoulder injury, including the surgery recommended by the orthopaedic surgeon; (2) a determination that her left-shoulder condition was a compensable injury causally related to her 2010 right-shoulder injury; (3) temporary total-disability benefits from November 18, 2011, and beyond, based upon both shoulder injuries; and (4) assessed attorney fees for bad-faith refusal to pay. Emory contended that Duval's 2010 right-shoulder injury was temporary and had resolved after appropriate medical treatment, and that her left-shoulder injury was unrelated to her employment.

Following a hearing at which Duval and a benefits case manager for Emory testified, and following review of the medical records [330 Ga.App. 665] entered into evidence, the ALJ concluded that Duval's left-shoulder injury was not a compensable work-related injury but that her current right-shoulder injury was an aggravation of her compensable December 2010 injury. These findings were made in reliance upon the medical records from the orthopaedic surgeon.

But on appeal, the Board concluded, based upon other medical ...


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