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Phillips: It's All Settled

  • State: Tennessee

One of the goals of the 2013 Reform Act was an efficient and timely system for resolution of claims. Settlement by agreement furthers that goal by getting employees their benefits more quickly and by allowing employers to avoid undue litigation expenses.

Judge Allen Phillips

Judge Allen Phillips

And the number of settled claims is impressive. In the Bureau of Workers' Compensation's current fiscal year, beginning last July, the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims has already reviewed almost 6,000 proposed settlement approvals. In the calendar year 2023, we approved 8,533 settlements.

Perhaps that number is understandable: The law requires that ALL settlements be approved. Specifically, Tennessee Code Annotated Section 50-6-240(a) says this:

[P]arties shall have the right to settle all matters of compensation between themselves, but all settlements shall be reduced to writing and shall be approved by a judge of the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims before they are binding on either party.

In fulfilling its obligation, the court hears approvals in all eight of its regional offices.

The court also goes to four satellite locations monthly for added convenience of the parties. The satellite locations are:

  • Weakley County Courthouse in Dresden on the third Monday of the month.
  • Montgomery County Courthouse in Clarksville on the second Tuesday of the month.
  • Maury County Courthouse in Columbia; call 615-848-6743 for dates/times.
  • Hamblen County Courthouse in Morristown on the first Wednesday of the month.

Note: By standing order, all settlements of claims for employees who live in Montgomery, Stewart or Houston counties will be heard only in Clarksville unless you file a motion for a special setting elsewhere.

In general, the rules require that “settlements must be presented in the bureau office closest to the employee’s residence.” But for “good cause,” the judge might waive this requirement.

For example, a severely injured employee in a hospital bed isn’t expected to travel to court. Nor is an employee in the hospital, one who is too ill to travel, one who lives several states away or one who routinely travels out of state with little time to come to court. Also, an employee should not be required to travel from Morristown to Nashville for approval, as recently happened.

These are just examples, but judges will always hear reasonable requests. Just make sure the requests are timely and include all parties when contacting the court. Rule .23 (7) explains the procedure when asking for approval by affidavit, and having the employee available by phone is best.

Rule 0800-02-21-.23 lists the requirements for approvals, including:

  • What must be in the paperwork, such as language that the employee is getting substantially the benefits to which she is entitled, or in the case of a disputed settlement, that it is in his best interest.
  • That an employee closing medicals must have paperwork that explains the effects of closure, including the potential effects on Medicare and Tenn Care.
  • What needs to be filed, such as SD2s, explanation of benefits forms and signatures of all parties on the documents (don’t forget to have everyone sign the petition for benefit determination settlement approval only). Want to know what those forms should look like? Just go to the court’s website; the templates have been done for you.
  • Attaching a copy of the impairment rating.
  • If closing medicals, documentation is most helpful (see Rule .23(6)). Settlements closing medicals face an uncertain future if the judge has little to determine how it is in employee’s best interests to close them. Medical records stating no need for treatment, a letter from the treating doctor saying that, or cost projections for future care if a sum of money is being paid are good examples.
  • And employers, arrange for payment of the $150 fee in advance or bring it with you. The office you are going to can tell you how to do it.

Well, that settles it: Approvals are by far the most likely way cases are resolved, and the numbers show it. The above provides some guidance for this effective and admirable process.

Allen Phillips is a judge in the Tennessee Court of Workers' Compensation Claims, Jackson. This entry is republished with permission from the court's blog.

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