Workers’ Comp Cases Remain in ALJ Domain

by Tony Flesor

A Colorado Court of Appeals opinion from May said public employees seeking workers’ compensation claims are left taking their claims to doctors specified by their employer and will have their cases heard by Administrative Law Judges.

The petitioner in Sanchez v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office challenged the constitutionality of using executive branch ALJs and the Industrial Claim Appeals Office for workers’ compensation claims. The key issue of the case deals with the exemption for governmental entities from having to provide a list of physicians a worker can see regarding on-the-job injuries. The court denied the constitutionality arguments. According to the attorney representing the petitioner, though, the decision might be motivated by factors outside of a direct reading of the law.

In the case, Michael Sanchez, a Denver Water worker, sustained a back injury lifting a hydraulic unit from his truck and was treated by Denver Water’s part-time doctor. Within a month, his pain subsided and he was released to full duty. Shortly after, though, he complained of more pain in his back, and after a follow-up visit, the doctor and a specialist concluded the pain was not work related. Sanchez sought temporary partial disability benefits, and an ALJ rejected the claim based on the doctor’s conclusion that the pain was not work related, and a panel of the Industrial Claim Appeals Office agreed.

According to Chris Forsyth, Sanchez’s attorney, allowing ALJ’s to uphold the decision is a danger to public employees. Forsyth claimed that the doctor who decided Sanchez’s injuries were not work related was a contractor of Denver Water who was awarded contracts over time for his ability to reduce workers’ comp costs.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the June 12, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.