Tag Archives: compensation

Supremes OK Award in PTSD Worker’s Comp Case

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts:
Nashville, Tenn. – In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the statute of limitations on a workers’ compensation claim does not begin to run until an employee discovers or, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have discovered that he has a claim.
On June 23, 2008, Steven Ratliff was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by viewing bodies of two co-workers who died in separate workplace accidents earlier that year. Exactly one year after the diagnosis, Ratliff requested a benefit review conference. The employer, Gerdau Ameristeel, Inc., argued that the statute of limitations began to run from the date of the second accident and that the claim was barred. Ratliff contended that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until his diagnosis date. The trial court agreed with employer. However, the trial court determined that Ratliff could not have discovered his injury until his diagnosis and if the statute of limitations did not bar his claim, Ratliff was entitled to an award of 20 percent permanent partial disability.
Today, the Court reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that the statute of limitations began to run on the date of the accident but was tolled until Ratliff discovered his injury. The statute of limitations therefore does not bar Ratliff’s claim because the trial court found that Ratliff could not have discovered his injury prior to his diagnosis. The case is remanded for entry of a judgment awarding Ratliff permanent partial disability consistent with the trial court’s alternative findings.
To read the Gerdau Ameristeel, Inc. v. Steven Ratliff opinion authored by Justice Janice M. Holder, visit http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/gerdauopn.pdf.

Panel Recommends Cut in Worker’s Comp Premiums

A unanimous recommendation from a state advisory council Thursday could translate into a 5.1 percent overall reduction in average charges for workers’ compensation insurance premiums for Tennessee businesses, reports The Tennessean.
The recommendation now goes to the state’s insurance commissioner, whose approval is required for any rate change. If approved, it could go into effect Aug. 9, when a 60-day stay expires that a joint committee of the state legislature had put on a 11 percent reduction in the so-called medical fee schedule under which physicians, hospitals and others are paid.

Bill Cuts Cost of Getting Worker’s Compensation Exemption

News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), May 23, 2012 — Legislation that decreases by 50 percent the registration and renewal fees associated with the Worker’s Compensation Exemption Registry for construction contractors has been signed into law. Governor Bill Haslam signed the legislation on Monday after approval by the General Assembly during the final days of the legislative session which ended May 1.
The reduction in fees was part of Senate bill 2923, sponsored by Senators Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) and Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), which also clarifies that either party in a worker’s compensation dispute may bring suit in the county in which the employee resided at the time of the injury rather than where the employee resides at the time of filing suit. The bill, as amended, reduces the registration and renewal fee because of the fund balance in the Registry after the first year of implementation.
Before, the law allowed worker’s compensation cases to be filed in the chancery or circuit court in the county where the employee resides or the county where the alleged injury occurred. This bill changes that to the county where the employee resided at the time of the alleged injury or the county where the alleged injury occurred.
“This new law simply changes the venue from where the employee resides at the time suit is brought to where the employee resided at the time of the injury. The purpose of the bill is to discourage forum shopping,” said Senator Overbey. “At the same time, the legislation decreases by one-half for contractors to place themselves on the Worker’s Compensation Exemption Registry. Fees are currently double the amount needed for proper regulation.”
The fee reduction comes after the state’s financial experts predicted that $712,500 would be generated from licensed and non-licensed contractors every two years through registration with the Worker’s Compensation Exemption Registry. The assumption was well below what actually occurred as renewal fees will still yield $1,341,550 after the 50 percent reduction is implemented. The exemption allows a business owner to exempt him or herself from the requirement to carry workers’ compensation insurance on him or herself.
The Registry is composed of individuals who are sole proprietors and own 100% of the assets of the business, or an officer of a corporation, or a member of a limited liability company with at least a 20% ownership interest, or a partner in a partnership with at least a 20% ownership interest. Registration is only available to individual business owners engaged in the construction services industry.
In addition, an applicant may qualify for the exemption if the applicant and members of the same family of the applicant hold at least 95% ownership of the business. Each corporation, Limited Liability Company, Limited Liability Partnership, Limited Partnership, General Partnership and family owned business may have up to 5 individuals who can qualify to be exempt. A sole proprietor can only have 1 exemption.
“When a business is overcharged for regulation, those fees need to be returned to them,” added Ketron. “There is no need to overburden them with excess fees. At the same time, it provides adequate funding to ensure our law is working as envisioned to protect workers. I am pleased this legislation has been approved and signed into law.”

Haslam Not Ready for Major Worker’s Comp Reform

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says legislators have been “tinkering around the edges” of Tennessee’s workers’ compensation law for a long time and the state “is getting behind the eight ball” in comparison with other states.
But it appears that 2012 will be another year of legislative tinkering on the topic as Gov. Bill Haslam, who has expressed keen interest in changes as part of efforts to promote a business-friendly environment, has decided to continue studying the best way to a comprehensive revision. The 2013 legislative session now appears the goal.
Still, there is some movement afoot. During the 2011 legislative session, the lead workers’ comp tinkering legislation, pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, basically enacted a deal struck by interested parties including lobbyists for business, labor and trial lawyers. Overall, it was seen as business friendly.
The measure tightened the legal definition of what constitutes an injury under the law and simplified the procedure for communication between an injured employee’s doctor and the employer, among other things.
Haslam feels those changes — combined with the 2010 revisions — could make a difference in operation of the system and wants to let them settle before embarking on substantive changes through legislation, said spokeswoman Yvette Martinez.
Note: This is the start of an article written for the Knoxville Business Journal. Full article HERE.

SOS Handling Exemptions from Worker’s Comp Insurance

News release from Secretary of State’s office:
More people are now eligible to claim exemptions from workers’ compensation as a result of a new law that took effect this month.
The law expands eligibility for people who can apply for and be listed on the Workers’ Compensation Exemption Registry, which is administered by the Secretary of State.
The expanded eligibility requirements are a result of the General Assembly’s passage of SB 1550, which was signed into law as Public Chapter 422 in June.
“I am pleased that the General Assembly has entrusted my office with the responsibility of administering the Workers’ Compensation Exemption Registry,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “I am sure there are a number of business owners who will take advantage of the expanded eligibility for exemptions that was created by the new law. We look forward to serving them.”
The changes to the law allow business owners in the construction services industry to opt out of the requirement to cover themselves with workers’ compensation insurance if they meet certain ownership requirements. The new law increases from 3 to 5 the number of business owners of a corporation, limited liability company or partnership that can qualify for the workers’ compensation exemption.
Each applicant must hold at least a 20 percent ownership in the business to qualify for an exemption. An applicant may also qualify for the exemption if the applicant is an owner in a family-owned business, regardless of the percentage of ownership. A sole proprietor may also apply for the exemption if he or she owns 100 percent of a business’ assets.
The filing fee for an initial workers’ compensation exemption registration is $200 for a person who does not have an active license issued by the State Board for Licensing Contractors and $100 for a person who already has an active license issued by the State Board for Licensing Contractors.
The new law also allows a person to qualify for a subsequent workers’ compensation exemption that is associated with another business as long as business ownership requirements are met. Business owners can qualify for an unlimited number of subsequent exemption registrations as long as they meet the qualifications for each registration for which they apply. The filing fee for each subsequent workers’ compensation exemption registration is $20.
Applications may be completed and submitted online at http://tnbear.tn.gov/wc or at the Tennessee Department of State Business Services Division’s customer service counter on the 6th floor of the William R. Snodgrass Tower, 312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue in downtown Nashville.
Applicants who qualify and who submit their applications online will receive instant confirmation of their exemptions. Applications submitted in person or by mail will be processed in 10 or fewer business days from the date the application is received in the Business Services Division’s office.
For questions about the application process, please call (615) 741-2286 or email WorkersComp.ExemptionRegistry@tn.gov.

Haslam to Teachers: We’ll ‘figure out a way’ to address your pay

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam visited Unicoi County Middle School last week, reports the Erwin Record, and conducted a roundtable meeting with Director of Schools Denise Brown, state Rep. David Hawk and a host of teachers from all grade levels, with experience ranging from one to more than 40 years.
“I honestly think the most important work that I will do as governor is to help continue the progress we’ve made in education,” Haslam told educators at last week’s meeting. “This is not meant to be just a dog-and-pony show.”
…Haslam continued the discussion by asking how participants at the table felt the state was doing at retaining good teachers.
“Not too well,” UCHS German teacher Lynn Honeycutt said. “We’re seeing a huge exodus of teachers (that are) leaving our county to go to systems within 15 minutes of here.”
Honeycutt said equalization of pay among school systems across the state could help remedy the problem, and Haslam agreed that something needs to be done.
“Fundamentally, we’re going to have to figure out a way to address compensation,” Haslam said. “Obviously the right balance is out there somewhere.”
UCHS drama instructor Lori Ann Wright added that colleges are finding it more difficult to place student teachers with mentors, as a new statewide teacher evaluation system places stringent requirements and added pressure on teachers to keep their students’ test scores high.
“That’s a huge part of your evaluation,” Wright said. “A lot of teachers are just not as willing to take on student teachers now because of that.”
Middle school instructor Lenee Hendrix also cited the loss of incentives such as collective bargaining by teacher unions, as well as new rules making it more difficult for teachers to reach tenured status, as culprits for the loss of 30 percent of new teachers from the field after their first three years on the job.
“The loss of these incentives and consistently low salaries are complicating the problem,” Hendrix said, adding that these factors, coupled with the stringent new evaluation system, are creating a “revolving door effect” with new teachers.
Seventh-grade math teacher Lisa Peterson said changes to the education system are being reported in the media and, subsequently, are making the teaching profession look like “the pit of society.”
“This job used to be one of admiration,” Peterson said.

Lobbying the Legislature Costs More Than Operating the Legislature (and related stories)

Apparently, more money is spent on trying to influence the Tennessee legislature than taxpayers spend to operate the institution.
That is the focal point in a series of stories on Tennessee lobbying that ran in Sunday’s News Sentinel. Steve Ahillen took all the reports on lobbyist compensation and lobbying related expenditures filed with the Tennessee Ethics Commission since 2006, the year it was created, and put together a database. The information he compiled was provided to yours truly, who cobbled together the stories.
Here’s a breakdown of the articles and related stuff:
_The centerpiece story reports that somewhere between $88.9 million and $232.1 million has been spent on lobbying since the reporting law began and, given all the limitations on what is reported, it’s probably a lot closer to the upper end of that figure.
That’s an average of $46.5 million per year. The total budget for all operations of the Legislature this year is $39.1 million.
Top spender on lobbying is AT&T and reports indicate a score or more of other companies and associations have lobbying expenditures in the million-dollar range. A list of the top spenders is HERE.
_Disclosed wining and dining of lawmakers by lobbyist employers totals about $2.4 million during the period, averaging close to $500,000 per year. This year set a new record of more than $558,000. (That $2.4 million on “in-state events,” by the way, is not included in the above totals of lobbyist compensation and related expenditures and is handled separately by the Tennessee Ethics Commission in its reporting.)
That’s probably a pittance compared to the old days, before restrictions were placed on lobbyist gifts to legislators in the form of meals, travel and other entertainment. Here’s an excerpt involving Tom Hensley, dean of the state’s lobbying corps.
Hensley said that, in the old days, “the entertainment was fun,” but the change in rules has really made no difference in the effectiveness of lobbyists or how they make their arguments for or against pending bills.
He often still goes to dinner or out for drinks with legislators, Hensley said, but nowadays each legislator simply pays his or her own tab while he pays only for his own food and drink.
In the old days, Hensley was nicknamed “the Golden Goose,” a tribute to his largess. In legislative lingo of the time, a “goose” was the person who picked up the tab at restaurants and bars.
Older legislators and lobbyists still call him “goose” on occasion. But the “golden” is rarely used with lawmakers paying their own way — except at the restricted events.
The new law also requires lobbyists to attend an ethics training class, a requirement Hensley said hasn’t made any difference in things either.
“You have to go to school to be ethical?? I don’t think so. If I wasn’t ethical, I wouldn’t have been here for 50 years.”

There’s a searchable News Sentinel database on wining and dining events. The Ethics Commission also keeps a listing of all events, by year, in one of the best, most easily readable features of its website, HERE.
_Because of the way our state law is written and interpreted, many people advocating for the passage or failure of legislation can, and do, avoid being legally labeled as lobbyists. That, of course, means they avoid the disclosure requirements.
As for interpretation, the leading case is a 2010 decision by the ethics commission in dismissing – after two years of secret investigating and convoluted maneuvering — a complaint filed against a Nashville public relations firm that ran a campaign against wine-in-grocery-stores legislation.
The opinion is an interesting read for state government junkies and, as best I can tell, has never been made available before on the Internet. The link is HERE.
One curiosity of the opinion — In contrast to campaign finance law where corporations are treated as individuals –is that the commission says a corporation or other such entity cannot be a lobbyist – only real individual people.
“A majority of the Commission holds that under the Act, an entity cannot be a lobbyist and that only an individual can be a lobbyist and for this reason Seigenthaler was not lobbying in performing the services described in the complaint,” the opinion states.
Twenty-five other staes require disclosure of specifics on payments to individual lobbyists. The National Center for Money in State Politics recently did a roundup of all 50 state lobbying laws that’s cited in the article.
_A rundown on the types of lobbyists, who may be divided loosely into three categories – the contract lobbyists, the in-house lobbyists and the policy lobbyists. Plus thumbnail sketches on a few individual lobbyists in each category.

New Laws on Courts, Crime, Blood, Workers Compensation, Etc.

Some stories & news releases on bills that passed the Legislature and maybe didn’t be much attention at the time, at least in some quarters.
Pretrial Diversion
Pretrial diversion was abolished so that more first-time offenders will face criminal consequences, reports The News Sentinel, listing some cases where the change – had it been in place previously – might have made a difference in sentencing. (Previous post, on House debate, HERE.)
Exclusionary Rule
The state’s “exclusionary rule” was changed to allow more evidence to be introduced despite search warrants with minor flaws, reports The Tennessean, citing a case where the change might have made a difference in convicting a criminal. (Previous post HERE.)
Drawing Blood
It will be easier to take a blood sample from DUI suspects over their objections under a new law, reports the News-Sentinel, citing situations where the new law might have made a difference.
Blighted Property Penalties
Property owners who let their yards get overgrown or let buildings fall into disrepair could face higher fines – up to $500 per day – under legislation that was passed last year, reports The Tennessean.
Sex Offenders on Campus
News release from the Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), May 24, 2011 — Legislation aiming to prevent criminals or sex offenders from serving in housing facilities in Tennessee’s colleges and Universities has been approved. The bill, sponsored by Senate Education Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), was passed as the General Assembly wrapped up its 2011 legislative session last week in Nashville.

Continue reading