By Jared S. Renfroe

In an effort help our clients stay informed on legal issues affecting their business, Spicer Rudstrom’s attorneys strive to make sense of the complex challenges and recent legal developments in the ever-changing world of workers’ compensation law. Our attorneys summarize the cases handed down in the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board each week, providing insight on the recent legislation as a resource to employers across industries, as well as insurance providers and carriers.

Rachel Hackney v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc.                      

Docket No. 2016-01-0091
State File No. 870-2016
Filed July 22, 2016

Posture: This case is on interlocutory appeal of Employee after the trial court denied Employee’s request for temporary disability benefits and payment of an unauthorized emergency room bill.

Facts: Employee sustained an injury when she fell on her wrist at work. She immediately reported the injury and sought treatment at the on-site clinic and declined to be transported by ambulance to the hospital. She was not initially given a panel of physicians. After leaving the on-site clinic, she returned soon thereafter, advising that she planned to go to the emergency room. The on-site clinic provided her with the contact information for the Employer’s Safety Manager that she needed to contact regarding medical treatment. Rather than contacting the Safety Manager, Employee went ahead to the emergency room and provided the Safety Manager’s information to the hospital, who contacted the Safety Manager. The Safety Manager advised the hospital that he could not authorize treatment as he was not aware that any employee needed emergency treatment.

Subsequently, Employee met with the Safety Manager to obtain a panel of physicians, and she selected a physician. The physician put her on light duty restrictions, which Employer agreed to accommodate. However, Employee complained that she could not do the work within the restrictions and requested a follow-up appointment, and at that time, she was placed under different restrictions. Employer then presented Employee with a Transitional Work Offer Letter for a light duty position with Employer, and although Employee initially declined the offer on January 7, 2016, she advised that she would accept on January 11, 2016. However, on January 11, she notified the Safety Manager that she could not come in for their meeting due to having a medical appointment. On January 21, Employer denied the claim for temporary disability benefits on the basis that Employee had voluntarily declined an offer of light duty work within her restrictions.

Employee’s restrictions were changed again, and Employer offered her work within her restrictions at a different facility for a different shift than Employee usually worked, but Employee declined this offer on the basis that she was not ready to work first shift due to child care obligations and because she did not feel comfortable working in the location where this other facility was located. Employer then provided her the option of working light duty at yet another facility, but Employee declined this offer because she could not work first shift due to child care obligations, but she notified Employer that she was available to work third shift.

The trial court held that Employee was not entitled to temporary disability benefits or payment of the unauthorized bill from the Emergency Room.

Holding: The Appeals Board affirmed the decision of the trial court. The Appeals Board held that because Employee did not contact Employer’s Safety Manager prior to going to the emergency room, she was not entitled to have Employer pay for the unauthorized bill for the treatment.  With regard to Employee’s request for temporary disability benefits, the Appeals Board explained that “[t]emporary partial disability refers to the time, if any, during which the injured employee is able to resume some gainful employment but has not reached maximum recovery.” See Williams v. Saturn Corp., 2005 Tenn. LEXIS 1032, at *6 (Tenn. Workers’ Comp. Panel Nov. 15, 2005). Additionally, it cited other cases handed down prior to the 2013 amendments regarding the concept of a meaningful return to work and explained that, although the concept is more fully developed in cases involving permanent disability benefits, courts use a similar analytical framework to determine whether an employee is entitled to TPD benefits if there has been an offer of light duty work made by the employer. Specifically, the Appeals Board explained that if an employee returns to work and stops working due to personal reasons or reasons unrelated to the work injury, there has been a meaningful return to work. Because in this case Employee’s refusal to accept the light duty work offers made by Employer were not based on the injury but were personal in nature, specifically, they were because Employee could not work first shift because of child care obligations.  Thus, Employee was not entitled to temporary disability benefits.

 

Jared S. Renfroe is an attorney for Spicer Rudstrom PLLC. He focuses his legal practice on litigation throughout Tennessee. His concentrates primarily in premises liability, business and commercial representation, employment practices litigation, professional liability, insurance defense and workers’ compensation.

 

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