The Tennessee General Assembly has passed the following workers' compensation legislation that will go into effect for accidents or injuries occurring on or after July 1, 2016:
Pursuant to T.C.A. § 50-6-201, an employee must provide their employer with written notice that they were injured at work. Currently, that notice must be provided within thirty (30) days of the accident. However, beginning on July 1, 2016, the employee must provide written notice within fifteen (15) days of the accident. Part of the purpose in creating the court of workers' compensation claims was to streamline the process and bring claims to conclusion more quickly. This new legislation appears to be in line with that purpose.
In addition, the legislation added a provision that may make it easier for injured employees to find attorneys that are willing to represent them. Under the current law, the court of workers' compensation claims may only award an employee attorney's fees and reasonable costs (court reporter expenses and expert witness fees for depositions and trials) when the employer fails to furnish appropriate medical treatment provided for in a settlement or judgment. See T.C.A. § 50-6 226(d).
The new legislation will also permit the court of workers' compensation claims to award reasonable attorneys' fees and costs to an employee if the court determines at an expedited hearing or compensation hearing that the employer wrongfully denied a claim or failed to timely initiate medical benefits or temporary or permanent disability benefits. This provision only applies to injuries that occur on or after July 1, 2016, but shall not apply to injuries that occur after June 30, 2018.
This new legislation could make it easier for injured employees to find legal representation. Under the current law, the fees of counsel for the employee are limited to 20% of the amount they were able to recover for their client. Since medical fees are paid directly to the medical providers, an attorney has no way to earn a fee for assisting a client in obtaining medical treatment. Prior to the 2014 reform of the Workers' Compensation Law, attorneys were willing to do so because, not only did they owe the duty to their client, settlement of permanent disability benefits were often substantial enough to justify this expenditure of time and effort. However, with the reduced amounts of potential recoveries in workers' compensation matters after the 2014 reform, fewer attorneys have been willing to take on cases in which medical causation is an issue since the risk outweighs the benefit of the reduced reward. Due to the new legislation, beginning on July 1, 2016, more attorneys may once again be willing to represent injured workers in contested cases since there is the possibility of receiving fees and costs incurred obtaining medical treatment for a client in addition to receiving the 20% contingency fee.