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.


Patrick, Beard, Schulman And Jacoway, P.C. Attorneys Selected To 2016 Mid-South Super Lawyers List

Patrick, Beard, Schulman and Jacoway, P.C. announces that Richard A. Schulman, Michael A. Anderson, and Jeremy M. Cothern have been selected by their peers for inclusion in the Mid-South Super Lawyers for 2016. Each year, no more than five percent of the lawyers in the states of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee are selected by the research team at Super Lawyers to receive ... (click for more)

Hamilton County Emergency Communications District Implements Inform CAD, Mobile System

Hamilton County Emergency Communications District has gone live with Inform CAD and Mobile, a step in an upgrade of their emergency communications and response technology. Combining the new technologies in place at Hamilton County which include TriTech 911, which Hamilton County installed in 2014, Inform CAD, and Inform Mobile, provides the district with a modernized communications ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain Council Looking Into Taking Over Schools

A new group of Signal Mountain Town Council members is looking into taking over county schools within the town boundaries.   Two newly elected board members, Amy Speek and Dan Landrum, joined the council Friday afternoon at the first work session after the election. The election of mayor and vice mayor for the next two years came first on the agenda. Dick Gee, mayor ... (click for more)

East Ridge Meth Dealer Gets 168 Months In Federal Prison

A man that agents said was dealing large quantities of meth from his East Ridge residence has been sentenced to serve 168 months in federal prison. Kenneth Lemons appeared before Judge Curtis Collier. Agents said they made several controlled drugs buys from Lemons at his residence in 2015. On Oct. 27, 2015, he drove up to a residence where DEA agents were making a controlled ... (click for more)

Tennessee River Gorge Trust Trail Warriors Make You Want To Take A Hike

Trail warriors of the Tennessee River Gorge Trust make you want to take a hike.  The Tennessee River Gorge Trust staff and volunteers make a huge difference in the Chattanooga community and have been making the outdoor areas around the River Gorge clean and protected for more than 30 years.  They deserve to be recognized and praised for all of the hard work they have ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Among The Worst In U.S.

Bobby Bragan, who was the first manager of Major League Baseball’s Braves when they moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta, had a great view on statistics: “Say you were standing with one foot in the oven and one foot in an ice bucket. According to the percentage people, you should be perfectly comfortable.” I am about to make you uncomfortable with some lousy statistics. Earlier this ... (click for more)