By Courtney S. Paterson

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.

Amanda Frye v. Vincent Printing Co., et al.                        

Docket No. 2016-06-0327

State File No. 4185-2016

Filed August 2, 2016

Posture: This is a case before the Appeals Board on interlocutory appeal filed by both the employee and the employer, and the dispute was whether the employer should be required to provide medical benefits and temporary disability benefits.

Employee alleged she suffered injuries after a workplace chemical exposure caused her to become dizzy and fall. The employer denied the claim as idiopathic and, therefore, not compensable. Following an expedited hearing, the trial court ordered the employer to provide medical benefits, pay bills related to the emergency room treatment and pay some temporary disability benefits. The employer appealed, arguing the trial court erred in determining the employee’s injury was not idiopathic and in ordering benefits. The employee also appealed, asserting she is entitled to additional temporary disability benefits.

The appeals board affirmed the trial court’s decision in part, vacated in part and remanded for further proceedings. It is important to note that the appeals board held that, although an employee may present sufficient evidence at an expedited hearing to support an order for medical benefits prior to trial, such a finding does not relieve an employee of his or her ultimate burden of proof at a hearing on the merits. Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-102(14) makes clear the employee has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the employment “contributed more than fifty percent (50%) in causing the injury, considering all causes.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-102(14)(B) (2015). In addition, such proof must be “to a reasonable degree of medical certainty,” which means that, “in the opinion of the physician, it is more likely than not considering all causes, as opposed to speculation or possibility.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-102(14)(C)-(D) (emphasis added). Thus, to the extent the trial judge suggested that Employee need not establish at a final hearing on the merits that her injury is causally related to her employment by expert medical opinion, such a finding was error. See Sirkin v. Trans Carriers, Inc., No. 2015-08-0292, 2016 TN Work. Comp. App. Bd. LEXIS 22, at *7 (Tenn. Workers’ Comp. App. Bd. May 9, 2016)(“to the extent the trial court found that Employee’s claim is compensable at this stage of the case, that finding is premature and, as such, is vacated”). Therefore, those portions of the expedited hearing order indicating that Employee has satisfied her burden of proving a compensable injury by a preponderance of the evidence and those portions indicating that she “will prevail” at trial must be vacated.

 

An associate with Spicer Rudstrom since 2009, Courtney focuses her practice on automobile liability, insurance coverage litigation, insurance defense litigation, insurance subrogation, premises liability, products liability and workers’ compensation. She is admitted to practice in all trial and appellate state courts in Tennessee, as well as the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.

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