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Dawn Atkin

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A new decision from the Court of Appeals addresses the claim that Medical Panels are biased.  In Johnson v. Labor Commission, 739 Utah Adv. Rep 42 the Medical Panel Chairman was doctor Alan Goldman who shared an office with prominent insurance doctors.  When the decision from the Medical Panel was not favorable to the injured worker, he filed an objection requesting an opportunity to question the Medical Panel in court.  The judge denied the request and denied the injured workers claim based on the decisions made in the Medical Panel report.  The injured worker filed a Motion for Review stating that there is an appearance of bias because of the Medical Panel Chairman's office arrangement.  The Appeals Board did not find the presence of bias or the need for a hearing on the Medical Panel, and upheld the Judge's decision.  The injured worker appealed to the Utah Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals decision is interesting because we have not had higher court decisions on these issues before.  There are three issues that the case helps us understand.

1.  The Medical Panel does not the finder of fact and, therefore, do not make the decisions regarding medical causation. 

T
he Judge and, if a Motion for Review is filed, the Appeals Board or Commission are the finders of fact.  Although the Medical Panel report is one piece of evidence that they use to make decisions, the Medical Panel itself does not make any decisions that are binding on the case.

This is interesting because all attorneys in the workers compensation field know that the Judge will adopt the Medical Panel's decisions.  It will be interesting to see if this reminder will change the way we object to decisions we think are incorrect.  The Court of Appeals states, "Finally, aggravation determinations are made by the finder of fact, and the [Appeals] Board is not bound by an independent medical panel's misunderstanding of the aggravation rule."  (Id. at 45.)

2.  There are situations where a hearing is required on the Medical Panel. 

The Court of Appeals found that this case did not require a hearing, but carefully outlined that there are 
situations in which it would be an abuse of discretion by the Judge not to allow a hearing.

I was not expecting this part of the decision.  I don't think there has been a hearing on a Medical Panel in over 20 years.  The law says a hearing is at the discretion of the Judge, but it appears there are certain situations that would require a hearing.

3.  Bias of a Medical Panel must be proven, not simply implied. 

The Court of Appeals clearly disagrees that an office sharing arrangement would make a doctor biased.

I did not find this portion of the decision surprising.  The system would stumble to a halt if every potentially perceived bias could cause a Medical panel Report to be excluded from evidence.

I hope to post additional information on this topic as the discussions on this case continue.  It will change the way many attorneys handle medical disputes, which is an issue in well over 75% of the legal cases filed.

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K. Dawn Atkin
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