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Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Summary 

Income Benefits

Two-thirds of average weekly wage, up to a maximum of $886.60 per week for temporary benefits (TTD) due to an injury occurring after July 1, 2012. No income benefits are payable for the first 7 days, but benefits for the first week are paid retroactively after 14 days of disability. Income benefits are supposed to be paid within 15 days after notice of the injury, and must be paid at least twice monthly. Temporary total disability (TTD) benefits continue until maximum medical improvement (MMI) has been reached, as long as the employee remains disabled, up to a maximum of 400 weeks. If the injury is permanent, the employee will be entitled to permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits, at a maximum rate of $806 per week (for injuries after 7/1/2012) based on the extent of vocational disability, after maximum medical improvement is reached. Benefits can continue for 60 days past MMI, but the employer will be entitled to credit against the PPD award.  Death benefits for a surviving spouse are limited to 50% of the average weekly wages of the employee. If there are dependent children, the benefit increases to two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly wage. For injuries occurring prior to July 1, 2012, the maximum rates are lower.

Permanent Partial Disability and Settlement of Cases

If an injured worker does not, or cannot, return to work with his or her employer at the same or greater wage than before the injury, then he or she may be entitled to an award of vocational disability of up to 6 times his or her anatomical impairment rating.  Such an award is meant to partially compensate the injured worker for loss of future income due to the physical impairment.  An award can be substantial in serious cases, up to a maximum of 400 weeks times the weekly benefit rate for permanent injuries.  In cases of permanent and total disability, weekly benefits are not limited to 400 weeks, but instead are paid until the worker is eligible for Social Security Old Age benefits.  In any serious injury case, the injured worker should seek experienced legal counsel as soon as possible after the injury.  If the injured worker is able to return to work with the same employer at the same or greater wage than before the injury, the award of vocational disability will be limited, in most cases, to 1.5 times the anatomical impairment rating.  However, the employee may be able to petition for reconsideration, even after an award limited to 1.5 times the rating, if he or she loses that job.  If a petition for reconsideration is filed, the injured worker can seek an increase in the award of up to 6 times the impairment rating.  An injured worker should always seek legal advice before agreeing to any settlement offer of 1.5 times the impairment rating or less, to review whether the 1.5 “cap” even applies, and to establish the time limitations for reconsideration, which are different for different injuries.  The law is complicated and creates traps for the unwary. Get competent legal advice immediately should your employment status change.

Medical Benefits

The Employer must furnish a panel of 3 physicians, plus a chiropractor if a back injury is involved.  A second opinion is available on the issue of surgery, impairment or diagnosis, from the specialized panel.  100% of necessary medical expenses incurred under the direction of an authorized treating physician are covered. Medical expenses include the employee’s travel to and from health care providers outside his/her hometown.

Rehabilitation

No benefits available, but medical case managers assigned to coordinate medical care for the insurance company in certain cases.

Coverage

Compulsory as to all employers of five or more, but not including local governments, unless they elect to participate in the system. The requirements are different for the construction industry as the legislature keeps changing the rules, but generally every employee on the site should be covered, even employees of subcontractors, with fewer than five workers.  General contractors can be held liable for workers compensation benefits in many cases if a subcontractor fails to have insurance.  Farm laborers are not covered.

Notice

The employer is entitled to notice of an injury on-the-job, and until such notice is given, the employer is not responsible for any benefits. Notice must be given within 30 days.

Grounds for Denial

Compensation is not allowed for willful misconduct or self-inflicted injury, injury due to intoxication by alcohol or drugs, or injury due to willful failure or refusal to use a safety appliance. Compensation may be denied for refusal to submit to a drug test.

Administration – Trials

The Tennessee workers’ compensation system is administered by the Department of Labor, Division of Workers’ Compensation. Cases are tried in Circuit or Chancery Court, if the parties do not reach a settlement after a Benefit Review Conference at DOL. Appeals go to a Special Workers’ Compensation Panel of the Tennessee Supreme Court, and can be considered by the full court in certain cases.

Attorney Fees

20% contingency fee, subject to approval of the court or Department of Labor.

Tennessee Department of Labor, Workers’ Compensation Division

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