Friday, September 24, 2010

You thought an arm and a leg were expensive? You were right!

From our very own Michael L. Forrester:

Employers are occasionally faced with the issue in workers’ compensation cases of what body part is affected in a work injury, and what difference it makes when it’s time to determine the amount of any permanent disability award. And the Employer and the injured Employee may be on opposite sides of the proverbial fence when confronting the extent of any medical impairment. A recent Tennessee Supreme Court Workers’ Compensation Panel decision emphasizes the point.

In Schering Plough v Plumley, the employee’s foot was run over by a forktruck at work, and after months of treatment, he was returned to his regular job without restrictions but he did have a permanent medical impairment as a result of the injury. The issue for the Court was, which body part sustained the disability? Remember, when an employee is able to return to work for the same employer, at the same or greater pay, Tennessee law may “cap” the employee’s permanent disability award. The law now provides that the “cap” applies not only to “whole body” injury cases, but also to arm and leg injury cases. The employee and his attorney in Plumley contended that his injury should be confined to his foot because the employee’s permanent disability award could not be capped by the Court. Not surprisingly, the employer contended the injury affected the range of motion in the ankle and thus should be capped as a leg claim.

The Court determined that since the injury affected the ankle, and the employee had consistent pain in his lower leg and he sometimes limped from the injury, the injury went beyond the foot and the permanent disability award should be to the leg; thus the employee’s permanent disability award was “capped” since he had returned to his job. The Supreme Court has also determined that this same analysis applies in the event of a work-related hand injury.

So, we encourage employers to prompt the treating doctor to be specific in their medical assessments and their “body parts” analysis. It matters.

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