Returning to In-Person Settlements

By Chief Judge Kenneth M. Switzer, Nashville

The days are numbered for telephone settlement approvals. In just a few short weeks, we’ll return to in-person settlement approvals, on April 4, 2022.

We announced this previously and promised a more detailed article once we ironed out the wrinkles. So here we go.

In-person is the rule; phone the exception

For starters, in-person settlements will be the primary method for settlement approvals, as they were before the pandemic. Exceptions will be made only upon request and for good cause.

We understand that some of you have grown accustomed to telephone approvals and even prefer them. We’re sensitive to that concern. We know that taking unpaid time off from work, traveling, and (sometimes) paying for parking are hardships for some injured workers. You’re fulfilling your duty to your clients to express this to us.

However, we, as judges, feel that it is our duty to see the parties face to face, in-person, when we approve a settlement. The statute requires that we determine whether the employee is receiving substantially the benefits to which they’re entitled or that the settlement is in their best interest. The better way to do this is to listen to them and observe the nonverbal communication. It reinforces on the parties the significance of what they’re doing, and the reality that a judge and Court really do exist. We also believe that the formality of in-person approvals matches the serious nature of the occasion and is an appropriate conclusion.

The judges appreciate how willingly you worked with us during the height of the pandemic, when we quickly changed direction and went to phone-only settlements. Frankly, we didn’t have much choice. It certainly worked under the circumstances, and we navigated jointly through many glitches. In fact, that system still has its issues even today.

Last year, we approved 7,595 settlements, and that was a low year. That’s over 15,000 people appearing before this Court just for settlement approvals, totaling more than $150 million in benefits.

Remember, we’ll grant requests for telephone settlement approvals in appropriate cases, as we did before the pandemic.

But overall, we’re committed to, and excited about, a return to in-person approvals.

The Procedure

To schedule settlement approvals and note document-filing requirements at the regular offices, see the links below:

Chattanooga

Cookeville

Gray

Jackson

Knoxville

Memphis

Murfreesboro

Nashvillle

Overview

Please note: Nashville will return to the pre-pandemic schedule of 8-9:30 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and 8-11 a.m. on Friday. No appointment is needed, and you don’t need to file paperwork beforehand. First come, first served.

In all offices your filing fee MUST be paid BEFORE the settlement approval can occur. Also, as was the past practice, please resume bringing the employee’s settlement check to the proceeding.

Alternate locations

As before, we’ll also continue to have “satellite” approval locations. They are:

Judge Addington: Hamblen County, first Wednesday each month from 9 a.m. to noon beginning April 6.

Judge Phillips: Weakley County, Dresden, third Monday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon beginning April 18.

Judge Tipps: Maury County, Columbia, March 22, April 19, May 24, and June 21, 9 a.m.; check with Patsy Bumbalough (615-848-6743) for future dates.

A final word

Let’s recall that we did in-person settlements for six-plus years, smoothly and efficiently. We’ll be back in the swing of things in no time and establish a new rhythm.

We’re looking forward to seeing your smiling, happy faces once again, and to note that none of us has aged in the last two years – at all. Right?

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