New Workers Compensation Law

The Legislature has significantly revised the Workers’ Compensation Law. New rules apply to employees injured on or after July 1, 2014. The new law generally reduces potential benefits and makes it more difficult for employees to establish a right to benefits. Trial Courts no longer have any involvement with workers’ compensation cases. All claims are now handled by a newly created Division of Workers’ Compensation. There are procedures for assisting employees to obtain benefits and mediation of all disputes is required. A special court system composed of workers’ compensation judges handles disputed matters and appeals. Only in rare cases can a matter be appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
The old law basically gave the benefit of the doubt to the employee. That is no longer the case. Previously an employee had only to establish that his injury arose out of and in the course of employment and that was liberally applied. Now it must be established that the injury primarily arose out of and in the course of employment. “Primarily” is defined as “the employment contributed more than 50% in causing the injury, considering all causes.” Previously, an employee could prevail by establishing that the employment could have caused the injury. Now it must be shown that the injury more likely than not was due to employment. Before almost any aggravation of a preexisting condition was compensable. Aggravations are no longer automatically covered.
Medical expenses made reasonably necessary by injury are still to be paid and employees receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage while recovering and unable to work. Once maximum medical improvement is reached the treating physician determines if there is permanent impairment. If there is impairment, a percentage rating of impairment to the body is given and the employee gets an award based upon the rating. Under prior law employees received a permanent award based on the percentage of disability, which was almost invariably more than the physician’s impairment rating.
If an employee returns to work at the same or greater wage, he receives an award based on the impairment rating and nothing more. If the employee cannot return to work due to the injury he can receive an additional permanent award based upon a formula. Amounts vary based on factors such as the extent of impairment, education, age and the unemployment rate in his County. Generally the awards obtained by applying the factors will be considerably less than the awards previously paid either voluntarily by insurance companies or as a result of a Court Order.
Under the new law an attorney will be of little or no help to an employee in most cases. Primarily lawyers will be of assistance only in case involving denial of compensability, a dispute over the extent of the impairment or situations where medical care has been denied. Whether the new law is an improvement depends upon your point of view.