Augmentation, Inc. v. Harris

Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama

225 So. 3d 103 | Sept. 13, 2016


APPELLATE COURT AFFIRMS CONTEMPT SANCTIONS FOR EMPLOYER’S FAILURE TO PROVIDE MEDICAL CARE AFTER SETTLEMENT OF ALABAMA WORKERS’ COMPENSATION CLAIM

Plaintiff settled her claim for compensation benefits in 2014 resulting from a work-related injury to her neck and back, but left open her medical benefits pursuant to the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act. After her settlement, she began having difficulty getting her continual medical care approved by the workers’ compensation carrier. She went a year without approval for medical treatment, and filed a motion to hold her employer in contempt for failure to authorize, approve and pay for medical treatment prescribed by her authorized treating physician.

The trial court held two evidentiary hearings, and after testimony of the plaintiff and her treating physician by deposition transcript, found her employer in contempt and awarded attorney’s fees, costs and expenses. At the evidentiary hearings, the employer did not present any witnesses, only documentary evidence supporting their position.

The employer appealed on the grounds that the trial court did not allow for meaningful discovery, and that the court did not conduct a trial on the merits of the issue, and that the trial court abused its discretion finding that the employer’s refusal to pay for medical treatment was willful. In affirming the trial court’s decision, The Court of Appeals of Alabama noted that the trial court conducted two evidentiary hearings, and that the employer failed to take advantage of those opportunities by submitting only documentary evidence, and no witness testimony.

Plaintiff filed a motion to conduct discovery, which was granted, but the employer did not file a similar motion. The employer instead requested leave to conduct depositions, but the record on appeal did not reflect whether the trial court granted or denied the employer’s request. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals declined to overturn the trial court’s decision on the discovery issue, as the record on appeal was incomplete.

The trial court found that the employer failed to provide a valid reason at the time of the decision to deny payment of medical benefits. The employer failed to participate in a utilization review program, and they did not seek judicial review of the dispute before refusing to pay for plaintiff’s treatment. The Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the employer’s refusal was willful, as it was supported by substantial evidence. Judgment was affirmed.

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