By Courtney S. Paterson


Karen Cotton, as the surviving spouse of Alan Lee Cotton, Decedent v. HUMACare, Inc., et al.       

Docket No. 2015-02-0061

State File No. 22812-2015

Filed September 14, 2016


This recent Appeals Board case involves a request for Death Benefits. However, it emphasizes the pitfalls of bifurcated hearings.


This is a case before the Appeals Board on an interlocutory appeal filed by the employee’s surviving spouse, and the dispute was whether the defendant should be required to provide death benefits.

This appeal involves an employee who died from injuries sustained after falling from a cellular tower. The defendant denied it employed the decedent and further denied it was a co-employer or special employer for workers’ compensation purposes.

Following a bifurcated compensation hearing, the trial court determined that the defendant was a co-employer of the decedent by contract but that it bore no responsibility for the workers’ compensation death benefits because it paid no portion of the decedent’s wages.

The appeals board vacated the trial court’s dismissal of the case and remanded it to the trial court for further proceedings. The court of appeals determined that the trial court exceeded the scope of the bifurcated hearing in determining that the defendant bore no liability for death benefits and dismissing the claim with prejudice. The appeals board also determined that the issue of whether defendant HUMACare was a co-employer of the decedent was not ripe for appeal.


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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