Expert Testimony from Psychologists in Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Cases

     Psychologists are not entitled to give a finding of causation under the act. As the Supreme Court stated in its unreported decision Shelby v. Highways, Inc, 2003 Tenn. Lexis 413 (May 13,2003), “the trial court cannot base a finding of causation solely upon the opinion of a psychologist.” Id.at *12 (citing Cigna Property & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Sneed, 772 S.W.2d 422 (Tenn. 1989». The ShelbyCourt indicated that the holding does not preclude inclusion of all of a psychologists’ testimony, but does preclude the psychologist from making statements regarding causation of any given injury. It is well established jurisprudence in the state of Tennessee that causation may only be proven by medical expert testimony, and in Rapier v. Jones Blair Paint, 2002Tenn. Lexis 428 (Sept. 27,2002), the plaintiffs even conceded that “a psychologist is not competent to render an opinion as to causation and permanency of an injury in workers’ compensation cases.” See also McCaleb v. Saturn Corp., 910 S.W.2d 412 (Tenn. 1994) and (Argonaut Ins. Co. v. Williams, 580 S.W.2d 784 (Tenn. 1979) (both holding that causation and permanency of injury must be established by expert medical testimony).  Tennessee courts have clearly stated that “while a clinical psychologist may have valuable testimony to offer, such testimony is not competent in a workers’ compensation case on the issues of causation or permanence of medical impairment.” Skelton v. Robertshaw Controls Co., 1998 WL 740855 (Tenn. Workers Compo Panel Oct. 26, 1998). Further, the Tennessee Supreme Court in Freemon V. VF Corp, Kay Windsor Div., 675S.W.2d 710 (1984) expressly held that a psychologist was not a medical doctor and was not qualified to establish permanence in a workers compensation case.

      Tenn. Code Ann. §63-6-204(a)(1) defines the practice of medicine as “Any person shall be regarded as practicing medicine, within the meaning of this chapter, who treats, or professes to diagnose, treat, operates on or prescribes for any physical ailment or any physical injury to or deformity of another.” Further, this statute distinguishes radiologists, anesthesiologists, and pathologists from physicians. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 63-6-204(e)(7), likely illustrating the distinction between such medical professionals.

     As an aside, the Supreme Court has read Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-204(d)(3)(A) very narrowly, and even excludes optometrists from providing medical expert testimony as to causation. In American Enka Corp. V. Sutton, 391 S.W.2d 643 (Tenn. 1965), the Tennessee Supreme Court held that despite years of training “It can be seen that the training in [optometry] … does not qualify [the optometrist] as a medical expert in the field of diseases of the eye, and therefore, his testimony is of no more probative value in determining the causal connection between the accident and the loss of eyesight than is the testimony of [the injured party].”  Id. at 233.  The court held in Bolton v. CNA Ins. Co., 821 S.W.2d 932 (Tenn. 1991) that physical therapists are not qualified to form opinions as to the permanent impairment ratings or physical restrictions of any given patient. The physical therapist must limit his findings to objective findings about a disability and may only make recommendations about physical activity that are within the scope of the physical therapist’s licensure. Id.;  see Elmore v. Travelers Ins. Co., 824 S.W.2d 541 (Tenn. 1992) (upholding the Bolton Court’s limitations on physical therapists’ testimony).

            Audiologists are defined by Tenn. Code Ann. § 63-17-103{1)(a) as “one who practices audiology or one holding oneself out to the public by any title or description of services incorporating the words ‘audiologist,’ ‘audiology,’ ‘audiolgical/ ‘hearing center,’ ‘hearing clinic,’ ‘hearing clinician,’ ‘hearing therapist,’ or any similar titles or descriptions of service. These professionals, much like physical therapists, psychologists, and optometrists are licensed and regulated by the laws of the state. As required by Tenn. Code Ann., various licensing and continuing education requirements are made for these professionals. Contrastingly, Physician is defined in Rule 0800-2-20-.01(14) of the Tennessee Dept. of Labor & Workforce Development Division of Workers’ Compensation Medical Impairment Registry Program as “both persons duly and actively licensed to practice medicine in Tennessee and persons duly and actively licensed to practice osteopathy in Tennessee.” An audiologist is neither licensed to practice medicine nor osteopathy, and may not be considered a physician within the statute’s meaning.

           If you need more information about a Social Security Disability/SSI matter, personal injury matter (car wreck, boating accident, slip and fall, etc.), EEOICPA claim, long or short-term disability, VA disability, Railroad Retirement Board disability, or a workers compensation matter, please contact 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, through Facebook, or through our website.  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, Jamestown, Sweetwater, Lenoir City, Athens, Oak Ridge, Clinton, LaFollette, Lake City, Jacksboro, Bean Station, Cosby, Newport, White Pine, Mosheim, Wartburg, Sunbright, Pigeon Forge, Greeneville, Harriman, Dayton, Spring City, 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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