On April 29, 2013, Governor Bill Haslam signed the Tennessee Workers' Compensation Reform Act of 2013 ("the Reform Act") into law. The Reform Act will apply to all workers' compensation claims that are made on or after July 1, 2014. This new law is intended to streamline the workers' compensation claim process while providing better protection and faster service to injured employees.
New “Workers’ Compensation Court”
The Reform Act establishes a workers’ compensation division as its own autonomous unit, connected to the Tennessee Department of Labor only for administrative purposes. Although the new system is administrative in nature, all disputes concerning a workers’ compensation claim will go to what will be known as “the court of workers’ compensation.” An administrator, appointed by the Governor, will oversee the new division as well as appoint the new workers’ compensation mediators, judges, and appeals board.
Supervised mediation will be the first stop for all unsettled workers’ compensation claim disputes. Issues which remain unresolved at mediation then will be decided by workers’ compensation judges. Workers’ compensation judges will hold hearings and make claim compensation and other orders, decisions, and determinations in accordance with the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure and the Tennessee Rules of Evidence just like other Tennessee state courts. These determinations will be made without a jury.
The decisions of the workers’ compensation judges then may be appealed to the workers’ compensation appeals board. Any adjustment or decision made by the appeals board is only appealable to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
New Physician Selection Process
Employers will designate a group of at least three (3) applicable physicians in the injured employee’s community, if possible. If not, then the employer is allowed to select a physician within 100 miles of the employee’s community. If a specialist is needed, the employee’s selected treating physician can make referrals. Referrals made by the treating physician are then presumed to be acceptable to the employer, unless the employer provides a group of at least three (3) specialists within three (3) business days of the treating physician’s referral.
New Ombudsman Program
The Reform Act also mandates that the new workers’ compensation administrator create an ombudsman program to assist injured employees, employers, and others in resolving claims-related disputes and protecting their rights in the workers’ compensation benefits administration process. This program will be available to individuals who are not represented by counsel. In an attempt to secure the new program’s success, anyone who refuses to cooperate with the services provided by an ombudsman can be assessed a special penalty per the Reform Act.