Workers’ Compensation Claimant Denied Choice of Physical Therapist to Conduct Functional Capacity Evaluation (“FCE”)

massage_therapy_spa_health-1024x768An injury on the job is never easy to deal with, especially when it results in a permanent disability affecting your ability to perform your regular job functions. A functional capacity evaluation (FCE) may be conducted at the employer’s expense to identify the parameters the claimant may return to work. However, a recent opinion from the Supreme Court of Louisiana held that a claimant does not have the right to choose a physical therapist to conduct the FCE at the employer’s expense. This may raise concerns for claimants who struggle to get back to work.

In May 2006, Paula Clavier sustained injuries to her neck, shoulder, and back while lifting an object, she believed to be lighter than it was. It is not disputed that this injury occurred on the job within the scope of her employment with Coburn Supply Co. Inc. (Coburn) in Harvey, Louisiana. After significant treatment, Corburn ordered an independent medical examination (IME), wherein their doctor, Dr. W. Stan Foster, opined that Clavier should receive an FCE to determine her work ability as she reached maximum medical improvement and would not require further treatment.

Since Clavier initially refused to attend the FCE, the employer filed a motion to compel the FCE, which was to be with a physician they chose. The Workers’ Compensation Court granted this motion.  Upon completion of the FCE, Ms. Clavier did not agree with the findings. She filed a motion requesting that the FCE be conducted with a physician of her choice to compare with the FCE performed by the employer’s physician. Clavier wanted to use an FCE conducted with her physical therapist and argued that Coburn should be responsible for paying for the same. 

Coburn argued that Paragraph (A) of La. R.S. 23:1121 provides that “[a]n injured employee shall submit himself to an examination by a duly qualified medical practitioner provided and paid for by the employer,” whereas Paragraph (B) states “[t]he employee shall have the right to select one treating physician in any field or specialty.” Coburn also argued Ms. Chavier’s physical therapist is not classified as a medical practitioner, therefore, not the correct professional to perform the FCE. Chavier argued that she should have the choice of the medical provider and that a physician is the same as a “medical practitioner”; therefore, she should be able to use her physical therapist for the FCE.

Appeals of those arguments ultimately ended up at the Louisiana Supreme Court. The Louisiana Supreme court upheld the lower court’s decision. It ruled a workers’ compensation claimant is not entitled to the choice of her provider for an FCE at the employer’s cost. The Louisiana Supreme Court looked to the straightforward, unambiguous language of the statute, upholding that the terms “medical practitioner” and “physician” are not interchangeable. The Louisiana Supreme Court further considered that Clavier’s current treating physician had not provided a medical treatment plan requiring an FCE. Accordingly, she did not currently have the right to choose the physician to conduct the FCE. 

This case demonstrates that not all words in the workers’ statutes are interchangeable as you see fit. Going back to work after an injury can be challenging. It is crucial to consult with a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney who can ensure you receive the most out of your benefits and can be treated adequately so that you can return to work at near full capacity.

Additional Sources: Paula Clavier v. Coburn Supply Company, Inc., et al.

Written by Berniard Law Firm Writer: Josephine Kostick 

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