By Chief Judge Kenneth M. Switzer, Nashville
“Workers’ compensation is a very important field of the law, if not the most important. It touches more lives than any other field of the law. It involves the payments of huge sums of money. The welfare of human beings, the success of businesses, and the pocketbooks of consumers are affected daily by it.”
—Singletary v. Mangham Const. Co., 418 So. 2d 1138, 1140 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1982).
On March 16, we detailed our proposed response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Our idea was to continue to function as a court system in any way we could, even if we were displaced from our normal offices. Sure enough, we soon found ourselves displaced. Many of you were as well. We, and you, will continue in this “isolation” for a while to come.
That said, we’re pleased to report that our preparation for alternate performance is going extremely well — thanks in large part to your willingness to be flexible and work within the system as designed.
You might’ve noticed that, at the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, we like to count. Here are a few statistics from the trial court’s first four weeks working remotely:
- We have conducted 514 telephonic settlement approval hearings.
- These approvals have resulted in the disbursement of $9,649,684 to injured workers.
- We have held over 100 telephonic status/scheduling hearings, keeping cases moving as much as possible.
- We have held several motion hearings.
- We have held a few expedited hearings on the record.
We remain willing to conduct expedited and compensation hearings by phone, should the parties agree.
As for the Appeals Board, Presiding Judge Tim Conner says that they are “fully operational.” Since March 23, the Board:
- Heard oral arguments in six cases telephonically.
- Issued five opinions and received three new notices of appeal.
- Received two requests for administrative review in pre-Reform Act cases and issued one order.
- Is actively working on several other opinions, to be released within the next few weeks.
In addition, the court clerk continues to process all filings and newly-submitted dispute certification notices issued by the mediators, who are holding telephonic mediations. The clerk also continues to process appeals to be sent to the Appeals Board. We realized in the days following the tornadoes in early March, when the Nashville office was closed due to uninhabitability, that TNComp kept things moving seamlessly in almost every case.
So, to recap: workers’ compensation in Tennessee is marching on through the coronavirus, thanks largely to your cooperation and patience.
As a final note, we’ve all been watching the news (maybe too much) and reading articles about the pandemic, trying to make sense of it all. One article suggests that we’re going through the stages of the grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. A new stage has been proposed: meaning.
As a court, we’re humbled to continue serving injured workers and employers in Tennessee. Many if not all stay-at-home orders have classified legal services as “essential.” What we in the legal profession do matters to other people. That’s always the case, but it’s especially true now. So, in all our frustration, anxiety and sadness, let’s remember that what we do has meaning.
You’re doing great.