Questions and Answers about Tennessee Workers Compensation – Part VII

          WORKERS’ COMPENSATION REFORM ACT OF 1996 

Q.        What major changes in the rights and benefits of injured workers in Tennessee resulted upon the passage of the Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 1996?

 A.        The following items are the most significant changes resulting from the passage of the Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 1996:

 1.         The Commissioner of Labor or the Commissioner’s designated representative may approve workers’ compensation settlements which were previously approved by trial court judges if the settlement has been signed by the employer and the injured worker, and the Department of Labor has determined that the injured employee is receiving substantially the benefits provided by the Workers’ Compensation Law.  If the injured worker was not represented by a lawyer, the settlement agreement must be reviewed by a Workers’ Compensation Specialist within the Tennessee Department of Labor. 

 2.         If an injured worker has reached maximum medical improvement, a permanent impairment rating has been assigned, and payment of the claim is not in dispute, then compensation payments will continued after the injured worker reached maximum medical improvement until the earlier of the following:

 a.         The injured employee accepts or rejects a job offered by the employer at a wage equal to or greater than the employee’s pre-injury wage;

 b.         The parties agree to waive the holding of the Benefit Review Conference; or

 c.         A Benefit Review Conference is held and a report is filed.

             In no case will payments subsequent to maximum medical improvement exceed the lesser of sixty (60) days or the value of the employee’s permanent partial disability award calculated solely upon the medical impairment.

 3.         Benefit Review Conference conducted by a Workers’ Compensation Specialist employed by the Department of Labor will be required in cases involving injuries occurring on or after January 1, 1997, unless the Department of Labor is unable to make a Specialist available within thirty (30) days of a request for a Benefit Review Conference or the employer and employee or their representatives agree in writing to waiver the Benefit Review Conference.

4.         Where the employer has implemented a “drug free workplace program,” drug and alcohol testing is permitted after an injury in the workplace, if the employer has reasonable suspicion to believe drugs or alcohol played a role in the injury.  If drugs or alcohol are present beyond certain specified levels, it is presumed that the injury was caused by the intoxicant.  This presumption can only be overcome by a preponderance of the evidence at trial.  If an injured worker refuses to submit to a drug test, it shall be presumed, in the absence of a preponderance of the evidence, that the injury was caused primarily by the influence of drugs or alcohol.  Injured employees who refuse to be tested forfeit all workers’ compensation medical and indemnity benefits unless they can demonstrate that the injury was not caused primarily by the influence of drugs or alcohol.

 Q.        Do the changes set out in the Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 1996 affect all persons whose workers’ compensation claims had not been settled at the time of the passage of the Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 1996?

 A.        Most portions of the new law will apply to all injuries that occur after January 1, 1997, with the exception of the right to receive payments as described at No. 2 above which became effective July 1, 1996, and would apply to all persons reaching maximum medical improvement after July 1, 1996.

           WORKERS’ COMPENSATION REFORM ACT OF 2004

 Q.        What major changes in the rights and benefits of injured workers in Tennessee resulted upon the passage of the Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 2004?

 A.        The following items are the most significant changes resulting from the passage of the Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 2004.

 1.         The maximum for Temporary Total Disability benefits has been increased.

 2.         An insurance company cannot close or buy out an injured worker’s right to future medical treatment in certain situations.  For most injuries, an employer or insurance company cannot close or buy out an injured worker’s future medical treatment for three (3) years after the date of settlement.  In cases of permanent and total disability. the right to medical treatment can never be closed out.

3.         For injuries on or after July 1, 2004, if an employer fails to timely pay temporary total disability benefits to an injured worker, then it can be assessed a civil penalty up to twenty-five percent (25%) of benefits owed.

 4.         For injuries on or after July 1, 2004, if the injured worker returns to work with his or her employer with the same or greater wage, then the injured worker’s recovery will be capped at 1.5 times the applicable impairment rating.  The cap applies to who body injuries and scheduled injuries over two hundred (200) weeks.

 5.         For injuries on or after July 1, 2004, an injured worker who was capped at 1.5 times his or her impairment and then loses his or her job within four hundred (400) weeks of the date of return to work can ask for reconsideration of the original disability percentage.  The injured worker cannot ask for reconsideration if employment was lost due to voluntary resignation or employee misconduct.  The right to reconsideration cannot be waived, compromised, or settled.

 6.         For injuries on or after January 1, 2005, suit cannot be filed in court until after a Benefit Review Conference has been held before the Department of Labor.  The Benefit Review Conference is a mediation process conducted with Department of Labor employees name Specialists.

 7.         Workers’ compensation cases can no longer be filed in criminal court.

 If you need more information about a personal injury matter (car wreck, boating accident, slip and fall, etc.), Social Security Disability or SSI matter, or a workers compensation matter, please contact John Dreiser at the Law Offices of Tony Farmer and John Dreiser for a free case evaluation.  We can be reached at (865) 584-1211 or (800) 806-4611 or by e-mail at John@farmerdreiser.com, through Facebook,  or through our website at www.farmerdreiser.com.  Our office handles claims throughout East Tennessee, including Knoxville, ChattanoogaKingsport, Bristol, Johnson City, Morristown, Maryville, Rogersville, Dandridge, Tazewell, New Tazewell, Jefferson City, Strawberry Plains, Sevierville, Gatlinburg, Loudon, Kingston, Halls, Maynardville, Crossville, Cookeville, Sweetwater, Lenoir City, Athens, Oak Ridge, Clinton, LaFollette, Lake City, Jacksboro, Bean Station, Cosby, Newport, White Pine, Mosheim, Wartburg, Sunbright, Pigeon Forge, and Deer Lodge.

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About farmerdreiser

Based in Knoxville, Tennessee, The Law Offices of Tony Farmer and John Dreiser provide comprehensive representation to injured victims throughout eastern Tennessee in personal injury, Social Security disability, and workers' compensation cases.
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