I have represented a number of burn victims in my legal career. To no surprise these cases usually involve painful life changing injuries. Among the cases we have handled, I have had burn cases arise in products liability claims, apartment fires and Workman’s compensation cases. Although the legal system can never fully compensate a person for a burn injury, one area that it repeatedly falls woefully short for this group of people is the TN work comp system.
The great part about workers compensation benefits is that all medical bills are paid for by the insurance company. Obviously, these bills can be enormous. Skin grafts, therapy, home health care and lengthy hospital stays are far from cheap. Don’t get me wrong, these doctors and hospitals are worth every penny. Many of my Tennessee clients are treated at Vanderbilt Burn Center. I truly believe this is one of the best burn centers in the country. Vandy Burn center is full of talented, caring doctors and they do everything in their power to help their patients regain a normal life.
However, the weak part of the TN work comp law for most burn victims is that it often provides nominal compensation for their horrible injuries. The reason for this is that the TN comp system only considers how an injury interferes with a person’s ability to earn a living. Often, burn victims are left with significant disfiguring scars but are able to return to their old job. This counts against them when the amount of compensation for their injuries is determined. Also, the system determines value based upon an impairment rating given by the doctors. Since many of the burn doctors are not familiar with the guidelines used for impairment they give very low ratings. This can cause the burn victim to receive very little compensation for the life changing injuries.
The TN comp system has many great attributes but it also has many shortcomings. Compensation to burn victims is one of its shortcomings. It is definitely an area where the law should be changed. Judges should be given more lead way in awarding compensation in these cases that do not fit the traditional workers compensation mold such as a injured back or broken leg. The only way i have found to address the shortcoming now is to meet directly with the doctors and explain the importance of the impairment rating. More than once I have gone over the AMA guidelines to impairment with a plastic surgeon. When this doesn’t work we often have to hire doctors that are more familiar with the guidelines to give an opinion as to impairment. The insurance company usually will fight that opinion with the lower treating doctor’s assessment. This again puts the victim in a dangerous place when trying to obtain fair compensation from the insurance company. It is unfortunate that a person that has gone through so much has to fight so hard because of the current design of the workers compensation legal system.
If you have questions about workplace burn injuries, unfair TN compensation for injuries, or ways you can help, please feel free to contact my Tennessee legal office.