By Judge Dale Tipps, Murfreesboro
I usually get nervous when I receive an email titled “friendly reminder,” because it’s often a euphemism for “final warning.” This post isn’t intended as a warning, final or otherwise. However, I’ve noticed some settlement approval concerns over the past few months. Below are some ways to avoid future “friendly reminders” from the judge regarding your settlements.
First, the Bureau is now auditing SD-2 forms, which are required by statute. (Fun fact: Did you know Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-244(f) authorizes the Bureau to assess monetary penalties against insurers or employers that consistently fail to substantially complete the SD-2 form?) It’s therefore more important than ever to make sure all relevant fields are completed. The judges and their staff are reviewing these forms, but it’s the drafters’ responsibility to comply with this requirement.
Similarly, it’s important to ensure that the benefit amounts in the settlement agreement and the SD-2 match. Please proofread your documents before you submit them.
Regarding those settlement documents, please note that Rule 0800-02-21-.23(5) requires parties to use the most recent templates on the Court’s webpage. So please use the templates with as few changes as possible. Obviously, the facts sometimes require modification of some of the language. However, wholesale changes such as adding headings or reorganizing (or deleting) paragraphs are unhelpful to the judge, who has to make sure that all the necessary information is included. The more your documents conform to the templates, the easier that task becomes. A detailed and lengthy description of the employee’s medical treatment is unnecessary and similarly unhelpful.
Rule 0800-02-21-.23(6) requires the parties to attach a copy of the impairment rating. This doesn’t mean you need to submit big stacks of medical records, especially if the settlement leaves future medicals open. Unless a specific issue makes medical records necessary, please don’t file them. The same goes for copies of the panel of physicians or other forms.
Along the same lines, some judges require you to provide a copy of the wage statement. Filing pay records in addition to the wage statement is unnecessary and just produces more clutter and paper waste. The same goes for First Reports.
I’ve seen several settlements lately where the factual statements in the settlement agreement don’t match the supporting documentation. This usually takes the form of the doctor’s recommendation for future treatment being overlooked or mischaracterized in the agreement. Needless to say, your drafting should carefully incorporate the particular facts of the case.
Absent good cause, Rule 0800-02-21-.23(9) requires settlements to be presented in the Court closest to the employee’s residence. The time to show good cause is before the approval hearing. Please be sure to contact the judge’s staff and ask for permission in advance.
Did you settle your litigated case? Congratulations! Be sure to share your success with the Court. Rule 0800-02-21-.23(7) requires the parties to “immediately notify the judge’s staff and schedule a settlement approval.” Even if you settled in mediation with the Bureau, you still must notify the Court.
Here is a bonus, non-settlement reminder. Let’s consider Rule 0800-02-21-.17(2)(d), which provides: “Except as required when filing a discovery-related motion, no written discovery requests or answers may be filed with the clerk.” Please take this one to heart. It creates unnecessary work and takes up valuable server space. The same goes for deposition notices. Just don’t file them.
That’s all for now. Consider yourself reminded. And as always, thanks for your adherence to the Court’s procedures and rules.