Tennessee Workers’ Compensation
The Tennessee Attorney General issued an opinion on April 17, 2012, concerning the constitutionality of requiring claimants receiving pain management treatment under the Workers’ Compensation Act to agree in writing to submit to random drug tests. According to the opinion, “A court would most likely find the drug testing provision . . . constitutionally suspect under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution.” Opinion No. 12-47.
The maximum weekly benefit rate for temporary disability benefits for injuries occurring from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013 is $886.60.
The maximum weekly benefit rate for permanent benefits for injuries occurring July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013 is $806.00.
The Legislature also added provisions with regard to pain management. Now, if a claimant is referred for pain management, the panel must include physicians within 175 miles from the employee’s residence or place of employment. Moreover, the employee is not entitled to a second opinion with regard to pain management, and the employer may use utilization review with regard to pain medication. The legislation further provides that if the claimant violates the terms of the prescription medication agreement with the physician more than once, the claimant shall not be entitled to receive pain management through workers’ compensation.
Venue: A suit may be filed in the county in which the employee resided at the time of the injury or in the county where the injury occurred.
In Norwood v. Maytag Corp., (Tenn. W.C. Panel 4/30/2012), the employee injured his neck while working, which resulted in a “mood disorder . . . with major depressive-like episode.” Basically, the neck injury aggravated the employee’s pre-existing mental condition. The reviewing court upheld the trial court’s ruling that the employee was 95% permanently disabled.
In an important decision from the Tennessee Supreme Court issued yesterday, the Court re-affirmed the “discovery rule” in Tennessee Workers’ Compensation cases. According to the Court: “The statute of limitations commences to run ‘at that time when the employee, by a reasonable exercise of diligence and care, would have discovered that a compensable injury had been sustained.’ Bellard v. Baptist Hosp., Inc., 559 S.W.2d 788, 789-90 (Tenn. 1978) (construing section 203). The question of whether a plaintiff has exercised reasonable diligence and care in discovering that he has a cause of action, however, is a question of fact.” Ameristeel, Inc. v. Ratliff, (Tenn. June 7, 2012).
Employee sustained compensable back injury that was treated with prescription medication. Five weeks after his injury, the employee died from hypovolemic shock due to gastrointestinal bleeding. The employee’s spouse file for workers’ compensation death benefits alleging that the employee’s death was caused by the prescription medication. An expert witness testified that the employee’s use of Naprosyn “precipitated the peptic ulcer and contributed to the bleeding”, but the court found that there was not a sufficient causal link between the medication and the death. The Court indicated that the fatal gastrointestinal bleed was caused by esophageal varices resulting from alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. Marine Accessories Corp. v. Woods, 37 TAM 23-4, 5/3/2012 (Tenn.W.C. Panel).
TCA 50-6-204(g)(2)(B) allows a Department of Labor Specialist to award attorney fees on post-settlement/judgment medical issues under the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act. Last month, the Davidson County Chancery Court found that judicial review of such awards, provided for by TCA 50-6-204(g)(2)(D)(ii), violates Due Process, and is therefore void. The ramification of this decision is to essentially strip the Department of Labor of the ability to dispose of post-settlement/judgment medical issues in workers’ compensation cases. Workers’ compensation practitioners would be wise to avoid using the TNDOL process to handle post-settlement/judgment medical issues.
Over the next few weeks, we will provide a short summary of the some of the important Tennessee workers’ compensation cases that were issued last year. We will begin with a Tennessee Supreme Court case addressing “scope” of employment. In Dixon v. Travelers Indemnity Col, 336 S.W.3d 532 (Tenn. 2011), the employee was a truck driver that was injured as the result of a tornado. The Court held the injuries sustained as a result of the tornado were compensable because his job as a truck driver placed him at a higher risk of injury from a tornado than the general public.
The Hamilton Firm routinely represents injured truck drivers, with extensive experience representing employees of Covenant Transport and US Xpress. If you are a truck driver and have been injured on the job, feel free to contact our office.