By Judge Pamela Johnson, Knoxville; Judge Dale Tipps, Murfreesboro; and Judge Josh Baker, Nashville
Can you teach old dogs new tricks? We believe you can and must when it comes to settling your case in the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims.
A landmark change took place approximately one year ago now, when we went to telephone approvals due to the pandemic. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Thanks for your flexibility in rapidly adjusting to the revised processes. Eventually we’ll all change back to the former protocols. That will be a happy day.
During this time, we’ve been approving settlements at our home offices, frequently with the furry co-workers observing. We’ve shared a few frustrations with them when things haven’t gone smoothly. So below are a few pointers from them and us.
Last July, we wrote to update you on a few recent legislative changes. One of those changes affected the calculation of the initial compensation period. The 2020 amendment to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-207(3)(B) extended the initial compensation period for injuries occurring on or after June 22, 2020, in certain circumstances. As amended, the date the compensation period expires is 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. Because of this change, the Court revised the explanation of benefits form to reflect these changes to the compensation period.
Settlements for claims with dates of injury after June 22, 2020, are now appearing before the Court. As part of the review process, the Court verifies that the parties have properly calculated the date the compensation period expires and listed the correct date in the settlement agreement.
Unfortunately, we regularly see proposed settlement documents that incorrectly calculate the initial compensation period. The most common error is failing to apply the 180-day period in cases involving smaller impairment ratings. (Rule of thumb: if it’s 5% or less, use the 180-day period).
So, to save yourself time during the hearing (and not wind up in the dog house with the judge and/or your client), ask yourself the following questions before submitting your settlement documents:
- Am I using the most recent settlement templates?
(Click here to download most recent templates. Scroll down to “Common Templates.”)
- Am I using the most recent explanation of benefits?
(Click here for latest EOB.)
- Have I correctly calculated the initial compensation period?
(Click here for a date calculator.)
We also encourage the employer’s attorney–not just their staff–to speak directly with the employee in advance of the settlement hearing. We’ve found that the defense attorneys who have spoken with the employee before the settlement hearing often find and correct errors in the settlement documents. This helps avoid issues during the hearing caused by incorrect/incomplete education information and inaccurate information about the employee’s return-to-work status.
We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the improvement in fully completing the SD2. Thank you for your diligence. Your attention to detail greatly reduces the length of each settlement hearing. However, we still find ourselves regularly having to fill in some blanks. It would be helpful if you make every effort to fill in all the fields, including the judge’s name and date of settlement approval where possible.
If you follow these suggestions, you’re sure to make the judge as happy as a dog with two tails.
Murray, Lucy, Mimi and Cooper appreciate your cooperation.