Employer’s Lien Against Recovery in Tort Case Does Not Extend To Future Medical Expense

Today, in Joshua Cooper v. Logistics Insight Corp., (1/16/13), the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed two prior rulings in which it held that an employer’s subrogation right against an employee’s recovery from a third party in a negligence case does not include the amount of future medical benefits to be provided to the employee.

Mr. Cooper was an employee of MasterStaff, Inc., which assigned him to work at ProLogistics, Inc. Mr. Cooper was using a towmotor to move pallets from a trailer parked at a loading dock into the ProLogistics warehouse. An employee of ProLogistics moved the truck away from the dock as Mr. Cooper was backing out of the truck, and the towmotor fell out of the trailer. Mr. Cooper sustained “significant, permanent injuries” to his back and spine.

Mr. Cooper sought workers’ compensation benefits from MasterStaff and also filed a negligence claim in Rutherford County Chancery Court against ProLogistics and Logistics Insight Corp. MasterStaff intervened in the negligence action, asserting a statutory subrogation claim, including recovery of the amount of future medical benefits that it may be required to provide under the Workers’ Compensation Law.

Mr. Cooper settled his negligence claim against the defendants in Chancery Court and reimbursed MasterStaff for medical expenses paid on his behalf.  MasterStaff asserted that the settlement did not dispose of all the claims regarding future medical expenses. The trial court disagreed and granted a motion to dismiss.  The Court of Appeals held that future medical expenses could be proven by MasterStaff and remanded to the trial court for a determination of the amount of future medical benefits.

Today, the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed the trial court, unequivically holding that an employer’s lien against an employee’s recovery from a third party provided by Tennessee Code Annotated § 50-6-112 does not extend to the amount of future medical benefits to be provided by the employer.

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