The vast majority of cases resolve via settlement rather than adjudication, and the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims is no different. From November 2014, when new-law settlements were first presented to the Court, through September 2015, the judges approved approximately 2,204 settlements, roughly 183 per judge.
Some of our offices (Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville) are particularly busy with settlements. Initially in Nashville, we scheduled approvals, but soon learned that simply holding hours for “open settlements,” to be approved on a first-come, first-served basis, was the better practice. Each location follows its own schedule. Please see the “Settlement Approval Times” on our website to learn when the office in your area approves settlements.
But before you arrive, settlement in hand seeking approval, below are a few pointers to help the process go as smoothly as possible.
For starters, please see the Court’s Practices and Procedures on our website. Scroll down to Rule 9, Settlement Approvals, on page 12. Highlights include that you must file a petition for benefit determination if one has not already been filed, and that there are a number of documents that must be prepared in advance of the approval, templates for which can found on our website as well. A copy of the impairment rating must be included unless the settlement is “doubtful and disputed.” If you are closing future medicals, you may provide a written statement from the treating physician indicating that no future medical care is anticipated, or documentation regarding the anticipated cost of future medical treatment.
Except under extraordinary circumstances and with good cause shown, settlement approvals by party affidavit are disfavored. Practical application of the process expanded our willingness to approve open medical benefits settlements by affidavit, upon request, and for good cause shown. In-person appearance remains the preference. If you are closing future medical benefits, however, settlements via affidavit are extremely disfavored. Parties and attorneys must be present.
As for counsel’s attendance, we are trying to be service-minded and not require employers’ counsel to travel great distances for open-medical settlements with self-represented litigants. Counsel need not attend such settlements in person, provided they: 1) forward the settlement documents to the self-represented litigant before the approval and have gone over them; 2) send the filing fee ($150) and settlement check to the office where the settlement will occur; and 3) attend the hearing telephonically. This does not apply to closed-medical settlements. Counsel must appear for those.
Counsel, please avoid broadly-worded release language. We have posted a template on the website, which you must use. The Court will not approve settlements, or will strike overly broad language, as necessary. If your settlement is not approved, for this or any other reason, under our rules you may not seek approval by a different judge.
On settlement day, please arrive in proper attire. A settlement approval is a court proceeding. Our rule requires: “All male attorneys are required to wear jackets and ties. Female attorneys are required to wear appropriate clothing during the presentation of a case. Witnesses and spectators must wear appropriate clothing. Hats, shorts, swimsuits, leotards, low-cut or open shirts or blouses, bare feet, or other inappropriate attire are not permitted in the courtroom.” For employers’ attorneys presenting settlements, we kindly request that you remind self-represented litigants of our attire requirements.
|This is not appropriate attire for a court appearance.|
|This complies with our rules, but…|
|Don’t be surprised if the Judge looks a little perplexed.|
Finally, if you are representing yourself, you are always welcome to contact the Bureau’s Ombudsman Program at (800) 332-2667 for questions about the settlement process, or any other concern related to a claim.