The Tennessee legislature has made substantial changes in our state’s Workers Compensation Law.

From the original Tennessee Worker’s Compensation law in 1919 until 2005, workers compensation cases were filed in court like any other lawsuit. For injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2005, cases had to first be filed with the Department of Labor. After a Benefit Review Conference (BRC), a lawsuit could be filed.

Under the new legislation, the Division of Workers Compensation becomes an autonomous unit that will be attached to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development for administrative matters only. For injuries on or after July 1, 2014, the Division has exclusive jurisdiction the hear workers compensation claims.

The new statute replaces the BRC process with a system of alternative dispute resolution wherein mediators that are employed by Division will attempt to facilitate the settlement of claims prior to adjudication. If the parties reach a settlement, it will need the approval of a workers’ compensation judge.

If parties cannot agree to a settlement during the alternative dispute resolution process, the mediator will issue a dispute certification notice setting forth the unresolved issues for hearing before one of the Division’s workers’ compensation judges, who will try the disputed issued. Appeals are initially to a three judge appeals board. Either side can appeal further to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The new legislation significantly changes benefits awarded under Workers Compensation. Gone are “scheduled members”. Instead, all impairment ratings are assigned to the body as a whole, using the AMA Guides. Recovery will be based on 450 weeks, rather than the current 400 weeks.

If the employee returns to work, he is limited to the impairment rating. If the employee does not return to work, or returns to work at lower pay, the employee may receive more if he is over age 40, does not have a high school diploma or GED, or worked in a county where the unemployment rate was 2% or more than the state average.

Details can be found at: New Workers Compensation Law

If you need to discuss how this may affect you, please contact one attorneys in the Workers Compensation Practice Section.