TALLAHASSEE — A panel for the 1st District Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court ruling that denied a Florida woman the opportunity to change physicians in a workers' compensation case.

The panel found that Judge of Compensation Claims Margaret E. Sojourner was in error when she denied the request from appellant Elsa Dominguez.

The case stemmed from an injury claim initiated by Dominguez, who allegedly suffered a hand injury while working in 2012. Her employer's workers' compensation administrator, Gallagher Bassett Services, approved a series of medical treatments with Dr. Arango, an orthopedic hand specialist.

Arango provided treatment for the hand injury assigned and a 3 percent permanent impairment rating on the right hand. In May 2014, Dominguez filed a petition for benefits, and among them was permission to be treated by her primary care provider, court records state. Gallagher Bassett Services denied the claim, saying it found no need for further treatment.

According to the May 2015 ruling, Sojourner saw nothing in the record to indicate a need for additional medical treatment. In February 2016, Dominguez requested the one-time change of physician. On April 21, 2016, Sojourner denied the request, citing res judicata, which means that a court has already decided the matter.

The appeals panel ruled that Sojourner misapplied the law and cited Section 440.13(2)(f) of the Florida revised code that “provides that upon the written request of the employee, the carrier shall give the employee the opportunity for one change of physician during the course of treatment for any one accident.”

The panel also ruled that because Dominguez was treated by an authorized physician, she qualifies for a change of physician. Also, the panel said that res judicata would not properly apply to her situation. 

The appeals panel remanded the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.

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