Tenn. Top Court Finds No Reason to Overturn $50,505.50 Attorney’s Fee Award

05 Dec, 2023 Frank Ferreri

                               

Nashville, TN (WorkersCompensation.com) -- A Tennessee employer recently learned that failing to provide benefits due an injured worker in a timely manner can add the cost of attorney's fees into what's already owed.

In Earheart v. Central Transport, No. M2023-00384-SC-WCM-WC (Tenn. 11/22/23), the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed an award of more than $50,000 in fees and costs because, in its view, the employer's initial denial of benefits was "wrongful" under state law.

While working, a delivery driver injured his right hip, which required surgery to repair a torn labrum. Following the surgery, the driver began experiencing lower back pain radiating down his leg to his heel. His doctor eventually released him to light-duty work, which he performed until the employer terminated him.

After initially denying the claim, the employer ultimately agreed to pay the requested temporary disability benefits. Following a compensation hearing, the Court of Workers' Compensation Claims ordered the employer to pay the driver's attorney's fees and costs, which amounted to $50,505.50. The Workers' Compensation Appeals Board affirmed. The employer appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

In Tennessee, courts may award reasonable attorney's fees and costs when an employer wrongfully denies a claim or wrongfully fails to timely initiate benefits to which the employee is entitled if the workers' compensation judge makes a finding that benefits were owed.

Tennessee law defines "wrongfully" as "erroneous, incorrect, or otherwise inconsistent with the law or facts."

The court upheld the board's ruling, which found that that the employer wrongfully failed to timely initiate benefits and "offered nothing" to contradict the proof that the driver was entitled to requested benefits. This proof included documentary evidence that the driver reported to work at all scheduled times and "numerous" depositions of lay witnesses and the driver's treating physician.

Given the evidence that the driver produced against the lack of contradictory material from the employer, Tennessee's top court saw no reason to upend the ruling in the driver's favor.

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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Frank encourages everyone to consider helping out the Kind Souls Foundation and Kids' Chance of America.

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