Attorney Jim Higgins was recently interviewed regarding proposed changes to the Tennessee Workers Compensation Law. If the law is passed if will prevent many injured workers from receiving the benefits they need to get well and back to work. You can watch the interview by clicking below.
Tennessee has a very conservative work comp system. A few years ago the legislature cut these benefits to so that Tennessee workers would receive less for permanent injuries. This was frustrating for employees as the system already only provided modest compensation for injuries. Well the Tennessee legislature is again in the process of reducing the already limited benefits available to workers.
Specifically, the legislature wants to remove repetitive injuries from the Tennessee work comp law. In other words, if you have worked on an assembly line for years using a pneumatic tool all day long and you develop an injury to your wrist or shoulder you would not be covered under the new law. According to the proposed legislation it would just be your problem.
Currently, the benefits for repetitive injuries are to provide you medical treatment and a small check so you can get back to work. If your injury is permanent you may get a small award. Under the new law the worker would get nothing and simply discarded. I am truly at a lost as to how these legislature is completely ignoring their constituents and pandering to big business and insurance companies. If you agree, please call or email your representative today!
In Tennessee, the compensation recoverable for a work comp permanent injury is limited if the employee is able to return to work at the same rate of pay. This provision under the Tennessee Workers Compensation Act is in place to get the employer incentive to get the employee back to work. Get the injured back to work and the injury will not costs you so much.
Unfortunately, some employers will return the employee to work just to take advantage of the cap and they will shortly thereafter terminate the employee. To keep this from happening the work comp act will allow a “reconsideration” of the workers compensation case. This allows the employee to re-open the case and litigate it again with the cap being removed. In general a case can be reopened if the employee losses their employment through no fault of their own within 200 or 400 weeks of the original injury (depending on the injury)
Pursuant to the Tennessee Workers Compensation Act both sides must submit to a benefit review conference (BRC) before a workers compensation lawsuit can be filed. I do not always like the fact that it is mandatory but I must admit the system has proven me wrong on occasions. I say this because often I have had workers compensation cases that I believe there is no way to settle the case and I just want to file the work comp lawsuit and get the case moving. However, on more than one occasion we have been able to work out a reasonable settlement at the department of labor during a BRC.
Here is how they work. In one room you will have the employee and their attorney. In the other room will be the lawyer for the insurance company/employer and a person with authority to settle the claim. The state of Tennessee will provide a specialist who will try to work out an agreement between the parties. The specialist will go back and forth between the rooms and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the case. The specialist will attempt to help both sides see the entire case more clearly. As work comp lawyers, we are trained from the start to be zealous advocates. This is great in a courtroom but can be difficult when trying to settle a work comp case. This is because both sides tend to feel strongly about their positions and just do not want to give. With the help of a mediator, however, reasonable compromises can be found.
I get this question a lot. The honest answer is there is no answer. Some cases finish fairly quickly and others can take a couple of years. On average in Tennessee, if a workers compensation case does not settle it will take about a year and a half to get to trial. Unfortunately, it just takes time and work to get a case ready for trial. It is not something you can rush.
Here is what is involved. After you have been released from your workers comp doctor and obtain an impairment rating you must have a benefit review conference (BRC) with the opposing side. This is basically a mediation that is conducted by the Department of Labor of the State of Tennessee. Probably about 70% of the cases get resolved at this juncture. As such, if your work comp case is completed at this section then your case is over fairly quickly. If you are unable to reach an agreement at the BRC then the next stop is litigation.
Once a lawsuit is filed the other side has thirty (30) days to answers. The parties then generally trade written discovery. This will take another couple of months. After the written discovery is completed depositions of parties, witnesses and doctors are conducted. Once all of this process is completed the case can be set for trial. Sometimes a trial judge can set your case quickly and sometimes their docket is very busy.
The bottom line is that you just have to be patient. I know this can be difficult but if you do not build the case or want to just settle early you will likely not be getting the full value of your claim. Also, just because it is taking time does not mean that your lawyer is not working. Feel free to ask them what has been done and what else needs to be done. They should be able to tell you their strategy and give you a rough timeline.
If you are trying to find an attorney to represent you in a workman’s compensation case there are a few basic questions that you should ask. These questions include:
-What is the lawyer’s experience with workers compensation cases In other words, how long have they practiced work comp law, how much of their practice is dedicated to workers compensation and approximately how many cases have they handled?
-Will the lawyer advance all costs associated with the lawsuit? This would include filing fees, expert witness fees and court reporter expenses.
– Find out of the lawyer represents employers/insurance companies or employees.
In addition to these questions it is important you that are comfortable with the work comp lawyer. Some lawyers are just a better fit for you and your type of case.
Rick Piliponis from our firm was recently interviewed as to how you can determine the value of your Tennessee Workman’s Compensation Case. For some basic insight into this issue please feel free to watch.
Good news for other lawyers that practice workman’s compensation law in Tennessee. As you are all aware it can often be challenging to find out if an employer had workers comp insurance and the identity of the work comp insurance company. The TN dept. of labor has now added a page to their website where you can verify an employer has coverage and obtain the identity of the insurance company. The like to the site can be found here.
This should also help employees confirm their company has coverage in case they are hurt on the job. After practicing work comp law for so many years I have often seen employees not realize that their boss didn’t have work comp coverage until after they suffered an injury. Unfortunately, learning this after an injury is too late and can leave the employee in desperate condition. As such, if you are starting with a new company I suggest you verify coverage through the state’s website. This is especially true if you are working for a small company as that is generally where we see a lack of coverage.