In a recent case, the First District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a benefits dispute between an employer and an employee. The claimant has hypertension which was previously adjudicated as compensable. Following that adjudication, he filed a petition for benefits seeking payments of impairment benefits for hypertension. The Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) issued an order granting the claimant’s claims for impairment benefits, attorney’s fees, and costs. The employer appealed the JCC decision.
The claimant’s hypertension was assigned a 10% permanent impairment rating by his authorized treating physician. The claimant’s independent medical examiner assigned a 50% permanent impairment rating. And the employer’s independent medical examiner assigned a 0% permanent impairment rating based on the claimant’s hypertension. Due to the conflicting medical evidence provided, the JCC appointed an expert medical advisor. The employer objected to the use of the expert medical advisor, asserting that no conflict in medical evidence existed. The JCC disagreed, reasoning that even if they accepted the employer’s argument that a conflict existed between the permanent impairment ratings of the claimant’s and the employer’s independent medical examiners. The expert medical advisor concluded that the claimant reached a 42% permanent impairment rating. The employer then appealed the decision.
The employer argued that the JCC was not correct to appoint an expert medical advisor in the first place and even if they were, whether the opinion offered by the expert medical advisor was proper. The employer states that the JCC erred in appointing the expert medical advisor as there was no initial disagreement in the opinions of the health care providers. Additionally, they contended that the JCC failed to address the employer’s objections to the expert medical advisor’s opinion. Finally, they object to the manner in which the expert medical advisor performed his assessment.
Regarding the first argument put forth by the employer, the appeals court opinion states that it is within the JCC’s powers to determine if there was a conflict in the medical evidence presented. If such conflicts exist, the JCC must appoint an expert medical advisor, and the appeals court has held so under similar circumstances. In response to the second claim, the appeals court opinion points out that the employer made no attempt to depose the expert medical advisor, nor file any motions to support this claim against the advisor. Finally, the appeals court finds on the last claim that there was no basis for the JCC to reject the advisor’s presumptively correct opinion based on the arguments put forth by the employer. Subsequently, the appeals court affirmed the lower court decision.
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