On December 6, 2019, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released its opinion in Colby Furniture Company v. Belinda Overton. In Overton, the employer sought the termination of the employee’s right to future medical benefits. The employee injured her neck in 1994 and received pain management treatment for over 22 years. In 2005, she was given a panel of four pain management doctors from which she selected a new doctor thus burning the one panel owed to her per statute. In 2015, she was dismissed from pain management for violating the narcotic agreement entered into with her doctor. The employer subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that the employee already burned her panel and, in the alternative, that she forfeited her right to benefits due to her own misconduct under an unclean hands theory. The Judge denied the motion and the matter proceed to an evidentiary hearing. The Judge subsequently issued a Final Order which required the employer to provide another panel of four from which no appeal was taken. The employer then undertook to comply with the Order by offering several panels. Despite its best efforts, none of the selected doctors were willing to accept the employee as a patient. The employer then filed a Motion for Additional Instructions outlining its efforts at complying with the Order and seeking further guidance from the Court on what could be done. The Judge then issued a second Order requiring either that a panel of four be offered (presumably from which the employee could select a doctor that would accept her as a patient) or, in the alternative, that the employer negotiate a settlement of the employee’s future medical benefits. The employer then filed a Motion to Alter Amend or Vacate that Order which was subsequently denied by operation of law. The employer then appealed the second Order.
On appeal, the employer raised several issues including the fact that the employee was only entitled to one panel per the statute and the doctrine of unclean hands. The Court of Appeals noted that the first Order which was conclusive and binding on the issues was not appealed. The Court further noted that, in its Motion for Additional Instructions, the employer did not assert that only one panel was owed or that the employee was guilty of unclean hands. Therefore, neither issue was deemed to be properly before the Court on appeal. For that reason and only that reason was the trial Judge’s Order affirmed.
My Two Cents:
This is one of those situations where no good deed goes unpunished. The employer clearly tried to bend over backwards to comply with the trial Judge’s wishes. In doing so rather than immediately appealing the ruling, it was forever precluded from seeking appellate relief. One point of interest is that the second Order gives the employer an option. It can either provide a panel OR negotiate a settlement of medical benefits. This begs the question as to whether in electing to go with option #2, it could simply not provide a panel. In the usual case, withholding medical benefits while attempting to settle medical benefits would immediately invite a cause of action for outrageous conduct (egregious settlement tactics). In this case, it would seem that the court’s second Order would insulate the employer from such a lawsuit.
About the Author
This blog submission was prepared by Mike Fish, an attorney with Fish Nelson & Holden, LLC, a law firm dedicated to representing self-insured employers, insurance carriers, and third party administrators in all matters related to workers’ compensation. Fish Nelson & Holden is a member of the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. If you have any questions about this submission or Alabama workers’ compensation in general, please contact Fish by e-mailing him at email@example.com or by calling him directly at 205-332-1448.