By Jane Salem, staff attorney, Nashville
What if there were an easy way to get a physician’s opinion into evidence?
Great news! For 35 years now, we’ve had that shortcut: section 50-6-235 and its rule counterpart, 0800-02-01-.09. The statute and rule state that a party may file the form instead of a physician’s deposition.
Form C-32 covers medical causation, permanent impairment and restrictions, maximum medical improvement, dates of temporary disability, and other critical information. Over the years, we’ve developed a body of case law about the form. (But please, read these cases in their entirety; don’t just accept my interpretation. Thanks.)
Supreme Court and Panel Opinions
So, for about 15 years, practitioners had the C-32, and everything went smoothly until the first major case about the form in 2002, Martin v. Lear Corp.
In Martin, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that a trial court properly admitted a C-32 introduced by an injured employee from the employer’s consulting expert. The Rules of Civil Procedure didn’t protect from discovery a consulting expert’s opinion who wouldn’t be called as a witness.
Fast-forward to 2008, when the full Supreme Court considered C-32s again in Crew v. First Source Furniture Grp. The case was mostly about causation. But the justices additionally held that the fee for completing a C-32 is a discretionary cost that may be awarded to a prevailing party under Rule 54. However, fees may not be awarded when “the information gleaned from the doctor’s C-32 filing was adverse to the prevailing party’s position.”
As for Supreme Court Panel opinions, probably the most noteworthy is Cowan v. Knox Cnty. in 2016.
In Cowan, the Panel held that a trial court properly excluded a “report” attached to a C-32. The report was dated two days after the physician prepared the C-32; was partially typed and partially handwritten; and wasn’t prepared by the doctor as a part of the C-32, but rather was prepared in response to questions posed to him by the employer after he prepared the C-32. The Panel concluded the report didn’t strictly meet the requirements of section 50-6-235.
The takeaway: a report that’s bootstrapped to a C-32 isn’t admissible. And, if a C-32’s contents are harmful to your case, depose the doctor.
Appeals Board Opinions
Since the Reform Act took effect, the Appeals Board has reviewed several cases involving C-32s. But I’ll mention just three of them.
In 2019, the Board released Smith v. Galloway Constr., LLC, holding that at an expedited hearing, the trial court properly admitted a C-32 into evidence, where the employee gave notice of an intent to rely upon the form by writing that the physician would appear “via C-32” on the hearing request form.
The Board also ruled that a party who files the C-32 without a statement of the physician’s qualifications can’t later object to their own exhibit on admissibility grounds based on that omission.
Last year saw the release of a couple of even more significant opinions involving C-32s.
First, in June 2021, in Sadeekah v. Abdelaziz d/b/a Home Furniture and More, the Board affirmed a ruling to exclude a C-32 that wasn’t timely filed before a summary judgment hearing.
Perhaps more important was a footnote that explained the type of hearing is critical to determine the admissibility of a C-32.
The Board wrote: “The rules governing expedited hearings allow a party to introduce ‘[l]etters or written statements addressing medical causation signed by a physician’ at an expedited hearing, but such statements may be excluded at a compensation hearing. . . . On the other hand, the proof that may be considered at a summary judgment hearing is governed by Rule 56.04 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. To be admissible as the physician’s direct testimony ‘at any stage of a workers’ compensation claim in lieu of a deposition,’ a Form C-32 must comply with the requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-235(c).”
So, if you want to use a C-32 in support of or in opposition to a motion for summary judgment, make sure it meets the standards.
Three days later, the Board released Mosley v. HG Staffing. In that case, the employer objected to the admissibility of a C-32 at an expedited hearing because it lacked an original signature and statement of the physician’s qualifications, and the form was incomplete. The court admitted the form as a signed medical record, and the Board affirmed.
The lack of an original signature didn’t preclude the trial court from considering it a signed medical record under Rule 0800-02-21-.16(2)(b), the Board held. Further, section 50-6-235(c) doesn’t require a physician to respond to every question included on the C-32. Incompleteness of the form goes to its weight, not admissibility.
Let’s end with practice pointers regarding C-32s.
— Don’t forget the original signature and statement of qualifications. File the form electronically, but bring the original to the hearing.
If you have a reproduced report that isn’t originally signed, the statute says you can get it into evidence with an originally signed affidavit from the physician or the “submitting attorney.”
And we don’t need the 30-page version of the CV listing every presentation the doctor has ever given. Rather, all we need is a statement of qualifications of the doctor making the report.
— Scrutinize the doctor’s opinions. Did the physician check that the employee’s condition resulted from a specific incident and a gradual injury, for example? Inconsistencies like that happen; sometimes staff complete the form, or possibly the physician is in a hurry. Stated another way, make sure the answers fit with the theory of the case before filing the C-32.
In conclusion, the C-32 has helped streamline case presentation for many decades now. The form has generated problems but also helpful case law along the way. To ensure your form gets before the judge, re-read section -235, the cases, and the form itself.