LWDN Quick Flash ~ Jun 2012
Georgia Court of Appeals Ruling on Brown Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. Maughon
In Maloney v. Gordon Farms, the Supreme Court of Georgia established what a claimant must prove in order to receive workers’ compensation income benefits based on a change in condition. 265 Ga. 825, 462 S.E. 2d 606 (1995). According to the Maloney standard, “a claimant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she suffered a loss of earning power as result of a compensable work-related injury; continues to suffer physical limitations attributable to that injury; and has made a diligent, but unsuccessful effort to secure employment following termination.” 265 Ga. at 828, 462 S.E. 2d 606. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently ruled in Brown Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. Maughon, clarifying the Maloney standard with regard to the issue of whether a claimant has established by a preponderance of the evidence that he has made a diligent but unsuccessful effort to secure suitable employment. No. A12A0782, 2012 WL 1948787 (Ga. Ct. App. May 31, 2012).
The issue in this workers’ compensation case was whether Mr. Maughon was entitled to temporary total disability (“TTD”) benefits after he was laid off from his employment with Brown Mechanical. On February 15, 2010, Mr. Maughon suffered a work-related injury and as a result continued working with restrictions. Shortly thereafter, on April 1, 2010, Mr. Maughon was laid off for reasons unrelated to his injury. Following his termination, Mr. Maughon sought employment with “well over 100” employers between April 1, 2010 and October 20, 2010, the date of the hearing on his claim. Mr. Maughon presented a job search log documenting his activities during this time span and also testified that three employment offers were rescinded after he disclosed his injury and work restrictions.
The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) awarded Mr. Maughon TTD benefits, specifically concluding that having made a diligent, but unsuccessful effort to secure suitable employment Mr. Maughon established his entitlement to TTD benefits. Brown Mechanical appealed to the appellate division of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation (“the Board”), which vacated the ALJ’s decision and denied Mr. Maughon’s claim for TTD benefits. The Board concluded that Mr. Maughon had not engaged in a diligent job search because the evidence indicated that Mr. Maughon did not look for a job every business day; he failed to follow up with 22 potential employers; he failed to search for work for periods of time lasting 27 and 18 consecutive business days; he lost two offered positions due to the need for surgery that had never been scheduled; and his employment search focused on positions involving physical labor when his employment history included managerial/sales experience. Based upon the totality of these facts, the Board concluded that the evidence did not provide “support for ‘reasonable inferences’ to be drawn that his inability to find work is due to the work injury.”
Mr. Maughon appealed the Board’s decision to the Monroe County Superior Court, which declared its decision to reinstate the ALJ’s award of benefits at the conclusion of a hearing. At the court’s request, Mr. Maughon’s counsel drafted an order that was adopted by the trial court, concluding that the Board misapplied the Maloney standard by establishing “a heightened burden of proof not required by Maloney.” The Court of Appeals ultimately reversed the trial court’s decision, concluding that the evidence in the record supported the factual findings and inferences made by the Board in determining that Mr. Maughon failed to conduct a diligent job search.
On appeal, Mr. Maughon argued that he had met his burden under Maloney and was entitled to TTD benefits because he submitted direct evidence of his job search and that three employers withdrew job offers after learning about his injury. The Court of Appeals, however, rejected Mr. Maughon’s argument stating that while the evidence submitted was probative, it was not dispositive. Taking into consideration all of the facts in the record, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the Board was authorized to conclude that Mr. Maughon failed to conduct a diligent job search.
To summarize, there is no “magic number” of employers that a claimant must contact to establish that he has engaged in a diligent job search by a preponderance of the evidence. Determination of whether a claimant has met his burden of proof under Maloney and is entitled to benefits is a fact-specific inquiry, depending on the totality of the facts in the record before the court.