By Judge Lisa A. Lowe, Knoxville
We use certain words to mean certain things. Sometimes we use a word or phrase out of habit, without really thinking of the meaning or implication.
For example, those involved in Tennessee workers’ compensation cases are familiar with what we have called “doubtful and disputed” settlements. “Doubtful” means uncertainty of mind, or the absence of a settled opinion.
Tennessee Code Annotated 50-6-240(e) covers these types of settlements and states that if the parties dispute whether a claim is compensable or the amount of compensation due, the parties may settle the case without regard to whether the employee is receiving substantially the benefits to which they are entitled, if the judge determines the settlement is in the best interest of the employee.
In an accepted/compensable claim, the judge must review the settlement and determine whether the employee is receiving substantially the benefits to which they are entitled.
Sometimes we see doubtful and disputed settlements proposed in compensable cases, where the parties dispute the correct impairment rating. The documents refer to a doubtful and disputed settlement but leave the employee’s right to future medical treatment open. In those cases, nothing is “doubtful” about the employee’s work injury.
Imagine you’re an injured employee, and no question or issue related to your claim has arisen. Then your settlement paperwork says your claim is “doubtful.” As we say in the south, most of us wouldn’t take kindly to that.
The word “doubtful” isn’t in the statute; it’s something that’s been used in settlement documents over time as a habit.
Therefore, to reflect the language that is in the statute, the Court has revised the “Doubtful and Disputed” settlement and order templates to remove the word doubtful. The new templates reflect that it’s a disputed settlement and reference the statute.
PLEASE USE THE NEW DISPUTED SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT AND ORDER TEMPLATES GOING FORWARD. They are available here. (Scroll to “Downloadable Templates.”)
A note to practitioners: Be aware of the two standards of review for settlements. If a claim is compensable, the standard is substantially the benefits to which the employee is entitled. So, if the sole dispute is a difference of impairment ratings, that employee would be entitled to open future medical treatment. In that case, the better practice would be to compromise and reach an agreement on the impairment rating, and use a regular agreement and order template versus a disputed one. If you have a compensable claim where treatment has been paid and an impairment rating has been assigned, that shouldn’t be presented as a disputed settlement. It’s probably wise to use the disputed template and order where there is an actual dispute as to compensability and whether the employee is entitled to any benefits.
Finally, remember that in any case where you’re attempting to close future medicals, whether an accepted/compensable claim or a disputed one, the judge must find that the closure of future medical benefits, for the consideration offered, is in the employee’s best interest considering all the circumstances.