Workers' Compensation Cases must be filed Timely

One important principle in law is timing. Often, even when a case does not have other issues of substantive law, a party’s position may be barred by their failure to act within a certain time.

Recently, in Tuscaloosa County, in Ex parte Travel Centers of America, Inc., the Court of Civil Appeals addressed whether the failure to file for a writ of mandamus within a certain period barred a worker’s compensation action. In January 2017, an employee, Patricia Oddo, filed a worker’s compensation complaint against her employer, Travel Centers of America, Inc. for an alleged work-related injury.

The employer argued that Oddo’s injury was a preexisting condition unrelated to her employment. In June 2017, the employer filed a motion for declaratory relief, asserting that it had provided medical treatment for Oddo. Oddo requested a new panel of physicians to select a new authorized treating physician.

Oddo’s response asserted that the injury occurred while performing manual labor at work. The trial court denied the employer’s motion for declaratory relief. The employer still failed to provide Oddo the panel of physicians. One month later, Oddo filed a motion seeking to hold the employer in contempt.

On September 21, 2017, the trial court entered an order indicating that it would consider the contempt motion as a motion to compel. The trial court ordered the employer to provide Oddo the panel of physicians within 21 days. The employer moved the court to vacate its order on September 28, 2017. The employer filed its petition for a writ of mandamus (an order to a lower court to correct an abuse of discretion) on October 30, 2017.

Under Alabama law, a petition for writ of mandamus must be filed within a reasonable time (the same as the time for filing a notice of appeal). An appeal from a worker’s compensation action must be filed within 42 from the date the trial court enters its judgment. The August 9, 2017 order, where the trial court determined that the employer had no right to refuse to provide the employee with a panel of four physicians, was the judgment from which the clock starts running. Accordingly, the Court found that October 30 petition was too late; the court dismissed the writ of mandamus was dismissed and the employer is required to provide the panel of physicians.

The main takeaway is that in order to successfully file a writ of mandamus, a party needs to follow all rules regarding timeliness. Reasonable time is the time necessary for a filing a notice of appeal, which is considered to be 42 days in a worker’s compensation case. By failing to follow these rules, the employer lost all claims to challenging the court’s order to providing a panel to Oddo.

It is important to seek an experienced worker’s compensation attorney who understands the realities of Alabama worker’s compensation law. If you need a worker’s compensation lawyer, contact INGRAM LAW LLC at (205) 236-3997 for help with your case.

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