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.

PrimeTime Business EXPO Will Be Oct. 15

The third annual PrimeTime Business EXPO, presented by the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, will take place Thursday, Oct. 15, from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. in the Bradley Square Mall.  “We’re moving to a new location for our third EXPO and adding time to the event,” Aaron Weatherford, membership director, explained. “Our members requested a venue that offers greater community ... (click for more)

GDOL To Help Bojangles’ Recruit Workers For New Restaurant In LaFayette

The Georgia Department of Labor will help Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits recruit about 100 workers for a new restaurant set to open in November in LaFayette. The recruitment will be held Friday, Oct. 23, from 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. at the LaFayette Career Center located at 200 West Villanow St. The company is recruiting managers, team leaders and team members. While ... (click for more)

Father Killed By Train Just After Pushing Daugter To Safety In East Brainerd

A 31-year-old man was killed just after he pushed his 10-year-old daughter to safety in an encounter with a train on a trestle in East Brainerd on Thursday afternoon. Police said two pedestrians were walking on the train tracks on a trestle at Audubon Acres when a train came around a bend and struck one of them. Justin McCary was struck by the train as he pushed ... (click for more)

Debate Blocked On Bill That Includes Funding To Restart Work On Chickamauga Lock

A bill by Senator Lamar Alexander that includes funding to restart Chickamauga Lock was halted on Thursday. Setting what Senator Alexander called a "dangerous precedent" for the Senate, he said Senate Democrats blocked deba te on th e bipartisan Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill. Senator Alexander said on the floor, “You don't start the process at the ... (click for more)

Erlanger Settlement Understandable, But Disgusting

Re: Erlanger Reaches Settlement With Former CEO Understandable from a legal liability standpoint but disgusting non the less. Gus Bryan (click for more)

Roy Exum: An Unfortunate Sentence

There was a most unfortunate line in a recent email written to me and, in retrospect, I should not have included it in some examples of the huge response regarding the bicycle lanes now being installed on Broad Street. I’ll admit I misread the line because I feel certain I know what the writer was trying to convey. As a matter of fact, I received enough of an outcry I want to clarify ... (click for more)