Supreme Court Reinstates Benefits For Injured Employee

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that an injured employee is entitled to the full amount of workers’ compensation benefits awarded to him by a trial court, despite having taken an employment buyout package shortly after his injury.

In 2008, Cha Yang suffered two separate shoulder injuries while working on an assembly line that manufactured Nissan vehicles. Yang underwent two surgeries to repair his shoulders but continued to experience significant pain, irritability, anxiety, and depression. In August 2008, he accepted a voluntary “buyout” from Nissan and resigned his employment in exchange for approximately one year’s salary and health insurance coverage for one year. He later filed a lawsuit for workers’ compensation benefits.

The trial court ruled in favor of Yang and awarded him 90% permanent partial disability benefits, temporary total disability benefits, long-term disability benefits, vocational benefits, attorney’s fees, and discretionary costs. Nissan appealed, arguing that Yang’s permanent partial disability benefits should be reduced because Yang had accepted the voluntary buyout.

On direct appeal, the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel agreed with Nissan and reduced Yang’s permanent partial disability benefits from 90% to 37.5%. The Panel thought that Yang’s decision to accept the voluntary buyout was not “reasonable” because he resigned his employment before he had completed the medical treatment for his shoulder injuries. Under the current workers’ compensation law in Tennessee, if an employee acts unreasonably by leaving his employment after an injury, his benefits must be “capped” at a lower rate.

The Supreme Court granted Yang permission to appeal and reversed the Panel, reinstating the higher award granted by the trial court. The Court agreed with the Panel that, ordinarily, “if an employee retires or resigns or declines an offer to return to work for either personal or other reasons that are not related to his or her workplace injury,” the employee has acted unreasonably and his benefits must be capped. The Court explained, however, that whether an employee acted reasonably is a highly fact-intensive question that is best left for trial courts to decide.

In Yang’s case, the trial judge had accredited testimony that Yang accepted the buyout and resigned his employment because “his recovery ‘wasn’t progressing,’ he did not know if his medical condition would improve, and he believed he ‘couldn’t go back’ to work after his shoulder surgeries.” Because these reasons were all related to Yang’s work-related injury, the Supreme Court determined that the trial court had properly awarded the higher amount of benefits. The Court also rejected the Panel’s conclusion that an injured employee can never retire or resign prior to completing medical treatment.


Study Shows 60 Percent Of Low-Income Tennesseans Face Civil Legal Problems

A study commissioned by the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission and the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services with the support of the Tennessee Bar Association has found that more than 60 percent of vulnerable Tennesseans face a significant civil legal need. The goal of the study was to examine the effectiveness of delivering legal assistance to those in need. ... (click for more)

The Dixie Group Reports Formation Of Masland Hospitality

The Dixie Group announced the formation of Masland Hospitality, a new business will be led by Elizabeth Moore, vice president of Masland Hospitality. With Dixie’s recent acquisition of the assets of Burtco, LLC, a comprehensive offering of products will be available from Masland for the hospitality market. The product portfolio will include large scale public space patterns utilizing ... (click for more)

Kiser Takes Witness Stand For First Time; Says He Did Not Kill Deputy Donald Bond

Marlon Duane Kiser took the witness stand at his post-conviction hearing on Tuesday to declare that he did not kill Deputy Donald Bond, who was gunned down at a produce stand in East Brainerd 13 years ago. Kiser had not opted to go on the stand when he was convicted by a Nashville jury and given the death penalty in 2003. He said he believes it was Mike Chattin, the man he ... (click for more)

Courtney Godwin, 25, Was Victim In Monday Night Fire In Hixson

Chattanooga firefighters battled a fully-involved structure fire in Hixson Monday night, and the incident involved at least one fatality.  Dr. Steve Cogswell with the Hamilton County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the victim as Courtney D. Godwin, 25. Dr. Cogswell said Ms. Godwin died from smoke inhalation.   The first call to 911 Communications was received ... (click for more)

Chattanooga State Faculty Has No Business Being Involved In Hiring Decisions

This letter will hopefully bring some clarity to the recent situation created by the faculty of Chattanooga State Community College. It is based upon my tenure as a member of the faculty at Chattanooga State Technical Institute, the transformation to Chattanooga State Community College, and my service as the financial and administrative officer at Chattanooga State until my retirement ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: A Grand Thanksgiving Feast

I’m not really sure how it all came about but a few days before Thanksgiving last year, what was usually a crowded table had dwindled down to just Mother, Aunt Martha and me. Just the idea of getting dressed up made both of them tired, which happens when you are 89 and 87, respectively, and the thought of preparing the traditional feast brought only further groans so I announced ... (click for more)