Of Bears and Men

By Judge Dale Tipps, Murfreesboro

Dale TippsBecoming a workers’ compensation judge included a few unexpected benefits. For instance, due to avoidance of ex parte communications, my phone rarely rings while I’m trying to draft that next order.

Another pleasant surprise is how much I enjoy meeting folks during their settlement approval hearings. Most people don’t have a lot of exciting details to share, but I like hearing about their hometown and their kids or grandkids. Similarly, most injury stories are somewhat familiar variations on falling down, straining something, or being on the losing end of an encounter with a machine.

However, there are some notable exceptions.

I recently approved a settlement for a gentleman who mentioned in passing that he served in Vietnam for almost three years. I asked him if that represented more than one tour (I’m pretty ignorant of things military). He explained that yes, it was three tours of duty. He realized as his first tour drew to a close that if he went home, his little brother – who was serving in the army in the States – would likely be deployed to Viet Nam. To keep that from happening, he volunteered to stay on for two more years. He didn’t quite finish his last tour because he was wounded and sent stateside to rehab.

He told this all so matter-of-factly that it took me a moment to catch on to what an extraordinary sacrifice he was describing. Before I could get too maudlin, he finished on a lighter note. He said the army sent him to a rehab facility somewhere in Texas. After a few weeks in that great state, he begged them to send him back to combat. Some people, you just want to shake their hand.

Judge Brian Addington, who for some reason always seems to meet the most interesting people, was not to be outdone by my recent bear-related injury blog. He told me about a settlement involving a man who took up bear hunting after his injury. This fellow got some dogs and went bear hunting by himself because he could not find anyone to go with him (Judge Addington suggested this is not a good idea, and under the circumstances, I agree with him).

Anyway, his first time out he got tired from chasing the dogs that were chasing the bear, so he sat down for a smoke on a fallen log. That’s where the bear found him, just before it reared up on its hind legs in front of him. He shot the bear and somehow dragged it out of the woods and got it to the game warden, who commented on how big it was. After the other hunters saw this, he had all kinds of hunting buddies. Judge Addington swears the gentleman looked just like Jed Clampett.

Another of my East Tennessee brethren described a recent closed-med settlement hearing. The employee explained he agreed to take a sizeable sum to close medicals because he did not expect to live long. When Judge Tom Wyatt said he hoped the employee was speaking figuratively, the employee replied he had been shot twice (once by an ex-wife), knifed three times, bayoneted twice, had nine heart attacks and two aneurysms, and had survived the death of three wives. Judge Wyatt suggested that he had used up more lives than a cat, and if those things hadn’t killed him, he would likely live for many years to come. The employee said he didn’t think so because his current wife was about to worry him to death and the police might notice if he outlived a fourth wife.

So that’s all. No practice tips. No instructions on indexing medical records before a hearing. Just stories and real life. They’re out there if you’re willing to take the time to listen for them. Also, if you do, be sure and pass them along to me.

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