The Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Law has been significantly revised in many respects for injuries occurring after July 1, 2014.  Reportedly propelled by the sentiment that rising workers’ compensation costs in Tennessee has driven away business, produced inconsistent results, and led to acrimonious and unnecessary litigation, this reform and new system aims to be more efficient, fair, streamlined, and cost effective for both employers and employees. These changes also bring Tennessee more in line with systems used in other states. Employers should educate themselves and their employees on the new workers’ compensation reform, including penalties. Here are a few of the most significant changes in the workers’ compensation legislation:

1. The Division of Workers’ Compensation oversees a streamlined administrative system that will handle all issues related to temporary and permanent workers’ compensation claims and benefits. Claims will be handled by the Division throughout the entire process, rather than in the hybrid, 2-system fashion previously-used. This means that trial courts will no longer have a role. Claims will be heard by Administrative Law Judges that are appointed by the Administrator of the Division of Workers’ Compensation. The Tennessee Supreme Court will remain as the ultimate level of appeal.

2. The new workers’ compensation statute will be applied impartially, favoring neither the employee or employer. This new standard eliminates the presumption favoring the employee implicit in prior versions of the statute.

3. All injuries are now examined as whole person injuries (as opposed to the use of the scheduled members present in prior versions of the statute), and the maximum value of a whole person injury has been increased to 450 weeks. The new method for determining Permanent Partial Disability benefits will be based on the impairment rating and statutory “factors” that may increase the award, such as return to work, age, education, and others.

4. A revised definition of injury now includes an injury by accident, a mental injury, occupational disease, or cumulative trauma condition arising primarily out of and in the course and scope of employment.

5. Employers are still required to provide an initial panel of at least three physicians, surgeons, or specialty practice groups in the employee’s area. The physician chosen by the employee becomes the authorized treating physician.

6. Greater employer access to medical information allows employers to communicate with treating physicians and review medical records  related to the treatment of the worker’s compensation injury, without the previously required employee-signed waiver.

7. An Ombudsman Program has been created to educate, assist, and protect the rights of injured employees, their employers, and others seeking to resolve claims-related disputes. This program is available to individuals without legal counsel.

Resources