Tenn. Worker's Psychiatric Challenges don't Relieve Grocery Store of Agreement

17 Jan, 2023 Frank Ferreri


Knoxville, TN (WorkersCompensation.com) -- As with most other legally binding contracts, settlement agreements employers reach with injured workers typically take a pretty strong case to knock down in court. 

That reality was on display in Food Lion Inc. v. Wilburn, No. E2021-01494-SC-R3-WC (Tenn. 01/11/23), in which an employer couldn’t use an employee’s “erractic course of complaints and responses to medicines” related to her mixed personality disorder to get around a settlement it reached with her 10 years earlier related to her workplace injury. 

A grocery store worker injured her pelvis during the course and scope of her employment. The injury occurred when the pallet jack the worker was driving collided with a concrete pillar. 

After the injury, the worker entered into a settlement agreement with the store that obligated the store to provide for future medical treatment related to the fractured pelvis. Under the agreement, the store agreed to pay the worker a lump sum award of $38,557.50 and further agreed to pay the worker’s “compensable, reasonable and necessary future medical treatment related to the subject injury.” 

More than 10 years later, the store filed a petition to determine whether her ongoing treatment for pain was causally related to the workplace injury. After considering the report and testimony of the doctor who conducted an independent medical examination, the trial court denied the petition. 

The store appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, arguing that medical evidence in the case did not show that the worker’s workplace injury was causally related to her employment at the store. 

Under Tennessee law, the opinion of the authorized treating physician “shall be presumed corrected on the issue of causation,” but this presumption can be rebutted. 

According to the Supreme Court, the store wasn’t able to rebut the presumption for the following reasons: 

Although the doctor’s IME report and deposition testimony suggested that a personality disorder were “at least partially” to blame for the worker’s “myriad psychiatric symptoms” and failure to respond to treatment, the doctor was “well aware” of her pathology when he made his diagnoses and treatment decisions. 

Questions about causation and a possible failure to diagnose a personality disorder existed when the store agreed to provide for the worker’s future medical expenses, and it was unlcear why the store did not seek clarification before entering the settlement agreement or why it waited more than a decade to challenge the treatment. 

The store’s doctor acknowledged that treating the worker was a “tough task” given her varied symptoms and “rapidly changing responses to medication” and that the treating doctor had “worked very diligently to try to help her.” 

Thus, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s ruling in the worker’s favor. 

For more from Tennessee and anywhere else in the U.S., visit WorkCompResearch 



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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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