Case name: Barnes v. Pinnacle Foods Group, No. W2009-01995-SC-WCM-WC (Tenn. 04/13/11, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that a worker did not have a meaningful return to work, so her benefits were not limited to 1 1/2 times the impairment.
What it means: In Tennessee, a worker does not have a meaningful return to work if she retires after experiencing pain while working within her doctor's restrictions.
A factory worker for a food processing and packing company sustained injuries to both arms while working. The company accepted her injuries as compensable. She was diagnosed with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and underwent surgery on her left arm. The worker continued to have problems with her arms. Her surgeon restricted her from lifting more than five pounds, and the company accommodated that restriction. While still under her surgeon's care and before achieving maximum medical improvement, the worker decided to retire shortly after she turned 65. The worker retired earlier than she had planned. The Tennessee Supreme Court held that the worker did not have a meaningful return to work, so her award of benefits was not limited to 1 1/2 times the impairment.
The company asserted that the worker's decision to retire was voluntary and unrelated to her work injury. The court disagreed. The worker attempted to return to work, and she worked with significant restrictions for four months. The court said that although there was no evidence that the company would not have been able to accommodate the worker's restrictions until her planned retirement date, working within the restrictions caused her to experience pain. Also, no evidence showed that her pain improved before reaching maximum medical improvement.
The court also concluded that the worker was entitled to an award of 65 percent vocational permanent partial impairment to both arms.
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June 2, 2011
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