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Workers' Compensation in Tennessee Fundamentally Changed!

     Workers' Compensation in Tennessee will change dramatically for employers, workers, and state government alike as of July 1, 2014. The public policy underlying this system has been turned upside down by the "Workers' Compensation Reform Act of 2013." The legislation developed almost entirely from a consultant's report prepared by four out-of-state consultants selected by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development is the most significant change to the Tennessee workers' compensation system since its creation.

     The Bill is more than sixty-five pages in length and is made up of more than one hundred individual sections. It would be impractical to attempt to discuss the specific changes in this article. The changes in public policy brought about by the legislation, however, deserve consideration. The legislation adopts three changes in public policy in Tennessee which have been fundamental to the Tennessee's workers' compensation system since 1919.

     First, the concept of compensating an injured employee for that person's loss of earning capacity when he or she has suffered an injury has been abandoned. The 2013 legislation eliminates the principle of compensation for an individual's lost earning capacity and replaces it with the principle that a worker, who is permanently injured, is compensated for anatomical or functional loss only. In the past, earning capacity was evaluated on an individual basis allowing for consideration of factors that make up the unique profile of the injured worker with the objective of compensating the injured worker for the specific loss experienced by that person. Under the new legislation, the principle of compensation for functional loss incorporates a method of compensation that is uniform across the working population. Essentially, two workers in the same community who suffer the same injury and are similar in age will receive equivalent compensation whether the worker is an orthopedic surgeon or a manual laborer.

     The second major change in public policy brought about by the 2013 legislation is the removal of Tennessee's elected judges as the appropriate persons for workers' compensation dispute resolution and replacing the Courts with the Executive Branch. The legislation provides for Executive Branch appointment and supervision of Department of Labor judges, and abandons our current system where judges are elected and remain independent.

     The third notable change in public policy, and the change most likely to be overlooked by the casual observer, is that the 2013 legislation strongly implies a forfeiture by the General Assembly of the opportunity to exercise oversight and determine public policy for the workers' compensation system by shifting that role to the Executive Branch. This change is manifested in the legislation not only by the creation of judges who are appointed and supervised exclusively by the Executive Branch, but also by the significant expansion of the rule making authority of the Executive Branch, spanning it across all major aspects of the workers' compensation system from establishment of procedures to conduct judicial hearings to the management of the daily medical treatment decisions of injured workers.

     If you need more information about a Social Security Disability/SSI, personal injury, EEOICPA, long or short-term disability, VA disability, Railroad Retirement Board disability, or a workers compensation matter, please contact the Law Offices of Tony Farmer and John Dreiser for a free case evaluation. We can be reached at (865) 584-1211 or (800) 806-4611 or through our website.

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