By Sarah McMahan, Administrative Assistant, Nashville
On March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful telephone transmission of clear speech, famously saying, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”
Bell probably never imagined how his invention would evolve over the years, or that for most of us, it would become almost an appendage. Checking the phone is the first thing most of us do every morning. Our phones have also been essential work tools for a long time now.
Before the Reform Act, state courts and the Bureau favored in-person settlement approvals. That remains the case at the Bureau since the new law took effect.
However, we’ve allowed settlements by affidavit in rare but appropriate cases. Of course, during the pandemic, all approvals took place by phone with an affidavit, to keep the system moving. We’re now back to in-person approvals as the rule, with affidavit/telephone approvals as the exception.
Let me note here that approval by phone isn’t mentioned in the rules, only approval by affidavit. Statewide, all judges have insisted that the phone interview occur as part of an affidavit settlement approval.
In Nashville, it seems we’ve had a high volume of requests for settlement approvals by affidavit/telephone lately. So, we want to remind everyone of the Nashville procedures for these.
The Bureau’s Rule 0800-02-21-.23(7) states that settlements by affidavit (link here) are permitted for good cause as determined by the judge, meaning the judge has discretion when deciding whether to hear the settlement by affidavit. The rule does give some examples of what constitutes good cause: “distance from the judge’s office or adverse health of the parties or their counsel.” The rule also cautions that settlement approvals by affidavit in cases involving closure of future medical benefits are unlikely to be permitted without proof of exceptional circumstances.
The rule additionally says that requests for approvals by affidavit must be made in writing to the local Bureau office two business days before the requested approval hearing and must include a copy of the proposed settlement documents. The assigned judge almost always requires the appearance of the party or counsel by telephone and sometimes require counsel to appear in person even if the party is only available by phone.
In addition to the above guidelines, please make sure the settlement documents are signed by all parties beforehand along with your affidavit request. Once the judge reviews the affidavit request, they’ll notify staff if it can be heard by affidavit. Court staff will then typically provide you with a list of calendar options for scheduling the settlement hearing.
Please remember that we must receive the filing fee before the approval, but we can’t hold checks for lengthy periods of time
Once scheduled, a confirmation email with the instructions to participate in the settlement hearing, including the call-in number, will be sent out. After the approval is heard, the settlement documents will be processed and filed according to the Nashville office’s procedures.
We hope this clears up any confusion that may have occurred with approvals by affidavit in Nashville. Of course, procedures in the Court’s other locations vary somewhat, so please be sure to familiarize yourself with them, too. As always, if you have any questions, contact your local Bureau office to ask for assistance. Just like Bell with Watson, we want to see you and are happy to answer your questions.