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Addington: Rest in Peace, Scheduled Members

  • State: Tennessee

I went out for lunch the other day and heard an ’80s song that I had not heard in years, "Head to Toe," by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. That song really got in my head, and I came back to the office thinking about it. Eventually, it led me to think about injuries from head to toe.

Judge Brian Addington

Judge Brian Addington

Have you ever dropped something on your toe and it hurt so badly that you got a headache? That reminds me of another song, "Dry Bones." You know, “the head bone is connected to the neck bone” song, and in this instance, the song gets it right. ("Dry Bones" was a spiritual song written by civil rights activist James Johnson and made popular by the Delta Rhythm Boys.)

Since the creation of Tennessee’s new workers’ compensation law in 2014, we have not had to worry about specific body-part injuries. We only accept ratings to the body as a whole.

Before the change, body parts were labeled “scheduled members.” Little fingers were worth 15 weeks of benefits; little toes were worth 10 weeks; and arms and legs were worth 200 weeks each. Other scheduled members fell somewhere in between.

Much case law was made from whether the injury was limited to the scheduled member or extended to another body part. If an injured worker could prove the injury affected another body part, the impairment and monetary worth of the injury increased.

This was the argument in Price v. Tipton Steel Erectors. Gary Price dropped a heavy metal plate and crushed his great toe. The injury didn’t require surgery, but he did undergo extensive physical therapy. His authorized doctor found the injury didn’t extend beyond the big toe, although Price had difficulty maintaining his balance. Price thought he should be compensated for his balance problems.

At trial, the court determined that the balance problem was due to his great toe and not to any problem with his head, such as dizziness or vertigo. Price’s great toe could not move or grip like it once did, which caused balance difficulties. However, the court limited his recovery to the toe or 30 weeks of benefits. Price appealed.

The Tennessee Supreme Court Special Workers’ Compensation Panel found the preponderance of the evidence supported the trial court’s determination. Further, it examined the authorized physician’s opinion and noted the American Medical Association's Guides allowed impairment to a scheduled member to be translated to impairment to body as a whole, but the appellate court found the trial court’s determination — limiting recovery to the big toe — correct.

The court reasoned that the legislature knew the loss of the big toe would cause balance problems and considered that in establishing the number of weeks a big toe was worth.

Hopefully, this blog post will serve as a helpful reminder for physicians and attorneys that on or after July 1, 2014, ratings can only be expressed to the body as a whole.

So, after reading this blog, is that "Head to Toe" song still in your head? It is in mine, although it didn’t make this list of earworm songs.

Brian Addington is a judge with the Tennessee Court of Workers' Compensation Claims in Gray. This entry is republished with permission from the court's blog.

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