By Judge Pamela B. Johnson, Knoxville
Periodically, the legislature tweaks the statutes related to the Workers’ Compensation Law. This legislative session was no exception. Full-text of the amendments is here.
Three noteworthy changes were made. The first two added to the calculation of deadlines. The last allowed a previous change to “sunset.” These changes are discussed below.
First, the “initial” compensation period for injuries is determined by multiplying the impairment rating by 450 weeks. If the employee lost his/her employment within that period, the employee might be entitled to increased benefits or extraordinary relief. In some cases, the compensation period was as few as 4.5 weeks. Recent amendments (link here) to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-207(3)(B) extend the “initial” compensation period for injuries occurring on or after June 22, 2020. As amended, the compensation period will be determined by: (1) multiplying 450 weeks by the assigned impairment rating, or (2) 180 days after the employee reaches maximum medical improvement, whichever is later.
Next, the legislature amended section 50-6-207(3)(D) to extend the time to file a petition for benefit determination seeking increased benefits or extraordinary relief. For injuries on or after June 22, 2020, an injured employee may file a claim for these benefits by filing a new petition no more than one year after the “initial” compensation period ends or one year after the 180-day period after the date of maximum medical improvement, whichever is later.
For example: An employee is injured on July 15, 2020. She is placed at maximum medical improvement on October 15, 2020, and assigned a one-percent permanent impairment rating. Under the amendments above, the employee’s compensation period expires on April 13, 2021 (180 days after October 15, 2020). The employee has one year from April 13, 2021, to file a petition for benefit determination seeking increased or extraordinary relief. In short, the 180-day rule applies to impairment ratings of less than 6%. (Actually, it is in between 5 and 6% but we rarely, if ever, see mixed number impairment ratings.)
We have revised the explanation of benefits to reflect these amendments in calculating the compensation period. While there is no need to revise the settlement templates, the Court will verify that the parties have properly calculated the date the compensation period expires and listed the correct date in the settlement agreement.
In addition to the amendments above to calculating the compensation period, amendments to section 50-6-801(d)(4) were made to the injured employee’s obligations to provide notice to the Bureau of an injury under the Uninsured Employer’s Fund.
For injuries occurring on or after June 22, 2020, an injured employee must notify the Bureau of the injury and of the employer’s failure to secure payment of compensation within 180 days of the injury to qualify for the possibility of benefits from that Fund.
Lastly, a different section of the law was allowed to sunset. Section 50-6-226(d)(1)(B) allowed an employee’s attorney to recover attorney’s fees for securing certain benefits that were “wrongfully” denied by the employer. This section was added in 2016 and revised in 2018 but tied to a provision that it would end on June 30, 2020, absent an extension from the legislature. The House approved modifications to this section, but those amendments succumbed to the reduced legislative session caused by the pandemic and never made it through the Senate. So, for now, attorney’s fees recoverable under section 50-6-226(d)(1)(B) only apply to injury dates between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2020.