Manager's termination in retaliation for claim justifies increased benefits
Case name: Erickson v. SDI of Oak Ridge Turnpike, LLC, No. E2011-02427-WC-R3-WC (Tenn. 09/04/12).
Ruling: The Tennessee Supreme Court held that a manager was entitled to benefits at the statutory maximum of six times his medical impairment.
What it means: In Tennessee, a worker who is terminated in retaliation for a workers' compensation claim does not have a meaningful return to work and is entitled to benefits at the statutory maximum of six times the medical impairment rating.
A co-manager for a fast food restaurant was repairing a heating element used to keep food warm. Someone plugged the heating element into an electrical outlet. An electrical shock caused the manager to lose consciousness. He suffered from burns on his hands, chest pains, headaches, and memory loss. He repeatedly asked his supervisor to pay his medical expenses and authorize medical care for his symptoms. The district manager said he would "take care of it," but the bills remained unpaid. The manager filed a workers' compensation claim, and the restaurant was fined for failing to timely report the incident. Days after the claim was filed, his supervisor "vulgarly expressed his anger" about the claim. Within weeks, the manager, who had never received a reprimand, received two reprimands and was later terminated.
A neurologist diagnosed the manager with a migraine condition and epilepsy and opined that the conditions were caused by the electrical shock. The neurologist found that he reached maximum medical improvement with a 10 percent impairment to the body as a whole. A vocational expert opined that the manager suffered a 65 percent vocational disability based on his age, limitations, work history, and the local labor market. The manager was unable to find gainful employment other than occasional "odd jobs." The Tennessee Supreme Court held that he was entitled to benefits at the statutory maximum of six times his medical impairment.
The court rejected the restaurant's argument that the maximum multiplier possible was meant to punish it for mishandling the claim rather than an assessment of disability. The court said that the manager was denied a meaningful return to work when he was terminated in retaliation for filing his claim. The manager's age, education, training, work experience, and limitations warranted the six-times multiplier.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
November 19, 2012
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