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Topic: Tennessee Workers Compensation

Can Employer Seek Reimbursement for Workers’ Compensation Benefits Paid to Employee Pursuant to Wrongful Court Order?

Posted on Nov 17 2014 10:49AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently decided a case that dealt with a situation where the plaintiff employer was ordered to pay for the workers’ compensation benefits (including medical treatment) of an employee.  See Roadway Express, Inc. v. Sammy T. Robertson, No. E2013-02797-COA-R3CV, 2014 WL 4793022 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2014).  The employer made those payments but appealed the Trial Court’s decision.  Ultimately, the Tennessee Supreme Court Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel vacated the Trial Court’s Order and found there was no subject matter jurisdiction by the Trial Court and, therefore, dismissed the employee’s Petition.  The problem was, the employer had already paid $152,511.59 towards the employee’s medical treatment.

 

As a result, Roadway Express Inc. filed suit against its employee to recover the payments made pursuant to the Trial Court’s Order in the workers’ compensation case.  The Trial Court dismissed the employer’s claim and found that the action was a workers’ compensation law cause of action and therefore the appropriate Tennessee workers compensation procedures had to be complied with in order to proceed with the cause of action.  Due to the fact there was no benefit review conference conducted, the Complaint was dismissed due to a lack of subject matter jurisdiction.  This issue was appealed. 

 

The Tennessee Court of Appeals found the trial court wrongly decided this issue.  Specifically, in a prior Tennessee Supreme Court decision, McCall v. National Health Corp., 100 SW.3d 209, 213 (Tenn. 2003), the Court specifically stated that “as we previously stated, a trial court can order the employee to reimburse any funds that were improperly paid to the employee.”  As a result, the Robertson Tennessee Court of Appeals’ decision found the Tennessee Supreme Court had previously held and acknowledged that a Trial Court may order an employee to reimburse his or her employer when the employee was wrongfully paid funds by the employer in a workers compensation case, as ordered by a court. Robertson at 4.  As a result, this suit by Roadway Express is an appropriate way to seek reimbursement from an employee by an employer when workers compensation benefits are wrongly paid. 

 

This is an interesting case because the employer filed suit against the employee outside the scope of a workers’ compensation case.  Under the

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TAGS: Tennessee Workers Compensation, Employment Law Comments [0]
  
 

Tennessee Court of Appeals Finds Illegal Aliens Have Standing to Bring Retaliatory Discharge Claims in Tennessee

Posted on Sep 21 2014 3:18PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Court of Appeals in Ricardo Torres v. Precision Industries, P.I., Inc. et al. No. W2014-00032-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 3827820 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2014) decided whether an unauthorized alien has standing to bring a retaliatory discharge claim against their employer in Tennessee.  In this case an undocumented worker who did not have a legal right to work in the United States was allegedly fired from his job when he pursued a workers’ compensation claim.  The employee sued the employer for retaliatory discharge and asserted he was terminated because he filed a workers’ compensation claim.  The trial court dismissed this case by finding an individual who is not legally authorized to work in Tennessee did not have standing to bring a retaliatory discharge claim in Tennessee.

 

This case was appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals to determine this issue for the first time in Tennessee.  The Court noted that illegal aliens are entitled to bring Tennessee Workers’ Compensation claims despite their illegal status.  As a result, the Tennessee Court of Appeals found that “the ability to file a retaliatory discharge is a natural extension of what is already permitted in Tennessee and under other statutory schemes.” Torres at 9.  The court reasoned that since illegal employees are entitled to bring workers compensation claims, they have standing to bring retaliatory discharge claims for asserting rights under that same statutory scheme.  The Court of Appeals overruled the trial court’s dismissal of this claim and sent it back to the trial court for further proceedings.

 

This case is consistent with the overall trend across America that expands the rights of illegal or undocumented residents.  As this decision points out, illegal immigrants are already allowed to bring Tennessee Workers’ Compensation claims.  This case now provides an extension of those rights to retaliatory discharge claims (although this is not a Tennessee Supreme Court decision) even though illegal residents are not actually allowed to legally work in Tennessee. 

 

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TAGS: Damages, Tennessee Workers Compensation, Employment Law, Civil Procedure Comments [0]
  
 

Can a Witness to Co-Worker’s Accident Bring a Retaliatory Discharge Claim After Being Fired Because He Was a Witness?

Posted on Aug 24 2014 9:05PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision of Phillip Dean Patrick v. Nelson Global Products, Inc., No. E2013-02444-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 3763677 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2014) discussed whether a former employee can bring a retaliatory discharge claim against their employer for being terminated allegedly because he was a witness to a co-workers’ work related injury.  In this case, the plaintiff asserted that he was standing near a co-worker when the co-worker suffered a work related injury.  That co-worker filed a workers’ compensation claim.  Shortly thereafter the employer terminated the plaintiff (not the individual who was actually injured in the workers’ compensation injury incident).  The plaintiff asserts he was terminated because he was a witness to the co-worker’s work injury and that this was a substantial factor in his termination.  As a result, he brought a retaliatory discharge case against his employer.

 

The Tennessee Court of Appeals noted that in order to prevail on a retaliatory discharge claim in Tennessee, there are four essential elements.  These elements are as follows:

 

(1) that an employment-at-will relationship existed;

(2) that the employee was discharged;

(3) that the reason for the discharge was that the employee attempted to exercise a statutory or constitutional right, or for any other reason which violates a clear public policy evidenced by an unambiguous constitutional, statutory, or regulatory provision; and

(4) that a substantial factor in the employer's decision to discharge the employee was the employee's exercise of protected rights or compliance with clear public policy.

 

Patrick at 3 (Citing Tennessee Supreme Court decision Webb v. Nashville Area Habitat for Humanity, Inc., 346 S.W.3d 422 (Tenn. 2011)).  The Court found that the plaintiff clearly could establish elements number one and two.  However, there were significant problems with plaintiff’s ability to establish elements nu...

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TAGS: Torts, Tennessee Workers Compensation, Employment Law Comments [0]
  
 

Workers’ Compensation – In Tennessee when is a Business Considered a “Statutory Employer” and Entitled to Immunity from a Tort Claim Under the Exclusive Remedy Doctrine?

Posted on Oct 21 2013 7:53AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently decided an interesting case that discussed the exclusive remedy provision under Tennessee law in detail.  The Fayette Janitorial Services and Technology Ins. Co. v. Kellogg USA, Inc., No. W2011-01759-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 428647 (Tenn.Ct.App. 2013) decision specifically considered whether the defendant, Kellogg USA, Inc., was a statutory employer within the meaning of T.C.A. § 50-6-113 and therefore whether it was immune from the tort claim filed on behalf of the injured worker to recoup workers compensation payments. 

 

The worker worked for an entity hired by Kellogg USA, Inc. to perform cleaning and sanitation work at the Kellogg manufacturing plant in Memphis, Tennessee.  Kellogg operates on a 28 day cleaning cycle and shuts down the plant for approximately 16 to 24 hours every 28 days.  During this shut down, the cleaning and maintenance cycle is completed by Fayette Janitorial Services (the direct employer of the injured employee).  On September 27, 2008, one of Fayette’s employees was severally burned by chemicals while cleaning one of the corn cookers at the Kellogg plant therefore resulting in a significant payment of workers’ compensation benefits.  As a result of this payment the direct employer and insurance company who paid workers’ compensation benefits sued Kellogg USA, Inc. asserting a tort claim for negligence and other causes of action for the injuries to the worker. 

 

Kellogg filed a motion for summary judgment asserting it was a “statutory employer” of the employee pursuant to T.C.A. § 50-6-113 and therefore it was immune from suit due to the exclusive remedy doctrine found in Tennessee Workers Compensation Law.  The trial court granted Kellogg’s motion for summary judgment because it found Kellogg qualified as a statutory employer.

 

On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court and found Kellogg was a statutory employer under T.C.A. § 50-6...

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TAGS: Defenses, Tennessee Workers Compensation, Employment Law, Corporation/LLC Law Comments [0]
  
 

Tennessee Chancery Courts - Annual report statistics for Tennessee Chancery Courts in fiscal year 2011-2012

Posted on Aug 12 2013 9:40PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Each year the Tennessee Judiciary publishes an annual report discussing the Tennessee judiciary.  This report provides detailed statistical information about Tennessee courts and the cases they handle and resolve.  The fiscal year, 2011-2012, report is the most recent report that has been released.  This post will discuss some of the statistics for Tennessee Chancery Courts. 

 

CASES FILED:

 

In fiscal year 2011-2012, there were a total of 62,392 cases filed in Tennessee Chancery Courts.  That is one Chancery Court case per 103 residents of Tennessee (2012 TN population was 6,456,243).  There are approximately 17,203 lawyers in Tennessee so that means there were a total of 3.62 Chancery court cases filed per Tennessee attorney (did you file your share?).  Of note to Tennessee litigators specifically, the following are the total number of cases filed in Tennessee Chancery Courts pertaining to specific types of cases involving litigation type matters:

 

            Probate/trust issues                                                      10,689

            Miscellaneous general civil                                           7,160

            Contract/debt/specific performance                            3,133<...

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TAGS: Tennessee Workers Compensation, Tennessee Legal Statistics Comments [0]
  
 

Tennessee Workers’ Compensation – The exclusive remedy rule and the intentional tort exception.

Posted on Jul 8 2013 7:58AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  The recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision of Celia Moody Rodgers v. GCA Services Group, Inc. and Weakley County Tennessee, 2013 WL 543828 (Tenn. Ct. App. February 13, 2013) provided a good discussion about the exclusive remedy rule found in the Tennessee Workers Compensation Act at T.C.A. § 50-6-108(a).  Simply put, this rule provides that an employee can only sue his or her employer under Tennessee Workers Compensation Law for injuries sustained while working and not in a tort suit.  In this case, the plaintiffs asserted the employee died as a result of pneumonia she had because of her exposure to mold in her job with her employer.  The defendants filed motions to dismiss under the exclusive remedy rule asserting the employees only remedy was under the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act, not a suit in tort.  The trial court dismissed the case due to the exclusive remedy rule.

 

On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals noted that Tennessee Workers Compensation Law “provides the exclusive remedy for an employee who is injured during the course and scope of his employment, meaning the employee is precluded from seeking tort damages for the injury.” Rodgers at 4 (quoting, Valencia v. Freeland and Lemm Constr. Co., 108 S.W.3d 239, 242 (Tenn. 2003)).  T.C.A. § 50-6-108(a) provides as follows:

 

The rights and remedies granted to an employee subject to this chapter, on account of personal injury or death by accident ... shall exclude all other rights and remedies of the employee, the employee's personal representative, dependents or next of kin, at common law or otherwise, on account of the injury or death.

 

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TAGS: Defenses, Tennessee Workers Compensation, Immunity Comments [0]
  
 

Subrogation - Is an employer entitled to a subrogation lien for the cost of future medical benefits for an injured employee?

Posted on Feb 8 2013 11:30AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Brief Summary:  An employer’s subrogation lien found in T.C.A. § 50-6-112 for benefits paid in a workers compensation case does not include future medical benefits for the employee.

 

Analysis:  The Tennessee Supreme Court recently reconsidered whether an employer was entitled to a subrogation lien for the cost of future medical benefits for an employee in the decision of Joshua Cooper v. Logistics Insight Corp., No. M2010-01262-SC-R11-CV, 2013 WL 163976 (Tenn. 2013).  This case specifically dealt with the scope of the employers subrogation rights found in T.C.A. § 50-6-112.  It appears the reason the Tennessee Supreme Court took this case (despite having handed down prior decisions on this issue) was because the Tennessee Court of Appeals held that future medical expenses in this case were not too speculative as a matter of law and therefore could possibly be included in the employer's subrogation lien.  Joshua Cooper v. Logistics Insight Corp., No. M2010-01262-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 1874577, at *4, *5 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 16, 2011).

 

The statute in question is T.C.A. § 50-6-112(c) which addresses an employer's subrogation rights for workers compensation benefits.  The pertinent part of the statute provides as follows:

 

(c)(1) In the event of a recovery against the third person by the worker, or by those to whom the worker's right of action survives, by judgment, settlement or otherwise, and the employer's maximum liability for workers' compensation under this chapter has been fully or partially paid and discharged, the employer shall have a subrogation lien against the recovery, and the employer may intervene in any action to protect and enforce the lien.

(2) In the event the net recovery by the worker, or by those to whom the worker's right of action survives, exceeds the amount paid by the employer, and the employer has not, at the time, paid and discharged the employer's full maximum liability for workers' compensation under this chapter, the employer shall be entitled to a credit on the employer's future liability, as it accrues, to the extent the net recovery collected exceeds the amount paid by the employer.

(3) In the event the worker, or those to whom the worker's right of action survives, effects a recovery, and collection of that recovery, from the other person, by judgment, settlement or otherwise, without intervention by the employer, the employer shall nevertheless be entitled to a credit on the employer's future liability for workers' compensation, as it accrues under this chapter, to the extent of the net recovery.

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TAGS: Tennessee Workers Compensation, Subrogation, Employment Law Comments [0]
  
 
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
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E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com

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