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.


Hixson Dentist Awarded Tennessee Dental Association Fellowship

Dr. Michael R. Johnson, a Hixson dentist, received the prestigious Tennessee Dental Association (TDA) Fellowship Award during the recent Music City Dental Conference held in Nashville, the 149th annual meeting of the TDA. The Fellowship Award is presented to no more than twelve deserving Tennessee dentists each year who make noteworthy contributions of their time and talent toward ... (click for more)

James Appointed Chief Medical Officer Of BlueCare Tennessee

Dr. Jeanne James has been named vice president and chief medical officer of BlueCare Tennessee, the Medicaid managed care subsidiary of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. Dr. James will oversee and guide medical policy for BlueCare Tennessee, and provide clinical direction on programs to improve health for members. “We are fortunate to have someone with Dr. James’ expertise ... (click for more)

Carmody Found Guilty Of First-Degree Felony Murder; Sentenced To Life In Prison

Patrick Carmody was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of first-degree felony murder and especially aggravated robbery in Judge Barry Steelman’s courtroom on Friday. He was charged with the slaying of 21-year-old Chance LeCroy on Sept. 9, 2010. The state’s account of the incident claimed that Carmody, Ronald Pittman, and Billy Bob Partin traveled ... (click for more)

Pair Charged With Holding Girl In Chattanooga For Several Months As Sex Slave

Two Chattanooga men have been charged by federal authorities with kidnapping a young girl in Atlanta and holding her for several months in Chattanooga, where they hired her out for sex for money. Corrie Gillispie and Willie Watkins are charged with conspiracy, kidnapping and sex trafficking. Gillispie, 40, is also known as Big Tyme, Chattanooga Tyme and Profit Tyme.. ... (click for more)

Case Handled Like Any Other? - And Response

It is interesting that Chief Fletcher would deem the handling of the Mayor's encounter as typical or normal. Is the Chief asking the public to believe that all misdemeanor domestic violence arrests include a 4-hour taped interrogation, and delayed reporting after a visit to the Chief’s house. Of course, we believe that Chief Fletcher. April Eidson * * *  I ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: A Judge's Night Behind Bars

There is very little doubt that retired Army Sergeant Joe Serna has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after serving three tours as a Green Beret in Afghanistan. Once he barely avoided being blown up by a hidden IED and then there was another terrifying brush with a suicide bomber. But the worst was when a truck he was in slid off the roadway into a canal. “It was like ... (click for more)