By Jared S. Renfroe
Samuel Panzarella v. Amazon.com, Inc.
Docket No. 2015-01-0383
State File No. 79681-2015
Filed January 18, 2017
In this case, the Appeals Board held that it was improper for the trial court to convert what the parties believed to be a Compensation Hearing into an Expedited Hearing after the hearing had ended.
The employee was injured when he bent down to pick up a piece of paper while working for his employer, and after he felt a tearing sensation in one of his knees, he fell to both knees. When he went to his primary care physician, he reported that he had chronic pain in his ankle and that compensating on his left leg had caused him to fall onto his left knee. Subsequently, he chose Dr. Vaughn from a panel of physicians presented to him by his employer. However, shortly after the employee saw Dr. Vaughn, his claim was denied as idiopathic in nature.
At an initial hearing, the parties advised the court that the employee was seeking medical and temporary disability benefits, and therefore, the case was not ready for setting deadlines. However, an Order was entered that provided several deadlines, including a deadline for the employee to file a Request for Expedited Hearing. The employee, though, did not file such a request. A status conference was held, and afterward, the court entered an order noting that the employee’s counsel did not want an expedited hearing and additionally noted the employee’s readiness to proceed with a “real trial.”
The trial was held, and afterward, the court entered an Expedited Hearing Order, finding that the disputed issue of permanent partial disability is not ripe for decision, and therefore the Court could not enter a final order resolving all of the disputed issues. It also held that it did not consider the trial to be a Compensation Hearing but rather an Expedited Hearing, which allows a lesser standard of proof, and found that the employee had satisfied this lesser standard of proof. The employer appealed, arguing that the hearing should have been considered a Compensation Hearing.
The Appeals Board noted that, at the outset of the trial, the judge read the parties’ stipulations, including the stipulation that the employee had not reached maximum medical improvement. Furthermore, they found that the employer’s legitimate belief that it was participating in a Compensation Hearing rather than an Expedited Hearing could reasonably have been a factor in its decision to not present witnesses or affidavits that it might have presented at the hearing.
The Board held that the trial court did not have the discretion to treat the proceeding as an Expedited Hearing after the hearing was concluded and thus vacated the trial court’s order and remanded the matter for the trial court to determine the benefits the employee is due, if any, based upon the evidence presented at the hearing.
Jared S. Renfroe is an attorney for Spicer Rudstrom PLLC. He focuses his legal practice on litigation throughout Tennessee. He concentrates primarily on premises liability, business and commercial representation, employment practices litigation, professional liability, insurance defense, and workers’ compensation.
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