Tennessee Workers Comp Claims: Eligibility, Filing and Appeals

If you were injured on the job in Tennessee, you should be able to file a workers’ compensation claim if you became injured on the job as a direct result of a work-related accident or develop an occupational disease due to an exposure at the workplace. This can include exposure to toxins, as well as conditions that are the result of repetitive stresses and chronic injuries that develop over time due to environmental conditions in the workplace. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development oversees Tennessee workers’ compensation claims.

The workers’ comp system is typically an injured worker’s only option for recovering compensation from his or her employer. In other words, you can’t sue your employer in court for the injury. However, there are rare exceptions to this general principle; talk to an attorney if you believe a traditional lawsuit against your employer is appropriate for your situation.

Covered Injuries and Illnesses

Under Tennessee workers’ comp law, any work-related injury or occupational disease that necessitates medical care, or results in the employee’s death or absence from work, is considered a valid workers’ compensation injury or illness. However, the injury or illness must have arisen in the course and scope of employment. Cuts and scrapes needing only first aid are insufficient for a workers’ compensation claim.

Covered Workers

Generally, employers with five or more employees in Tennessee are required to have workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. All employers in the construction and coal mining industries must be insured, regardless of the number of employees they have.

Tennessee workers’ compensation laws cover most, but not all, workers in the state. Separate federal workers’ compensation laws cover federal employees. And like most states, Tennessee excludes independent contractors, domestic workers, and some agricultural workers from coverage under state workers’ compensation law. (Sole proprietors and business owners can elect to opt out of coverage if they meet certain criteria.)

Filing a Workers' Compensation Claim

You should report your injury or occupational disease to your employer as soon as possible, but no later than 30 days from the injury, or from when you first learn that your injury or illness is work-related. You aren’t required to give notice to your employer in writing. However, it's best to do so anyway, to avoid any question of whether you timely reported the injury or illness.

Within one day of your report, your employer must complete the Tennessee Employer’s First Report of Work Injury or Illness form, Form C-20, to acknowledge your report of a possible workers’ compensation claim. Your employer should complete the form even if it disputes that the claim is related to your work.

The employer will notify its workers’ compensation insurance company of your workers’ compensation claim. The insurance carrier must accept or deny your claim within fifteen days.

Workers' Compensation Benefits

If your workers’ compensation claim is accepted, you should begin to receive the workers’ compensation benefits you are eligible for depending on your particular situation.

Medical Treatment

Your employer, or its workers’ compensation insurance company, is responsible for paying all claim-related medical care. This includes doctors’ visits, hospitalizations, prescriptions, physical therapy, and even mileage reimbursement if you have to travel more than fifteen miles for a medical appointment. Your employer may require that you choose a physician from a list of three approved physicians.

Temporary Disability Benefits

Tennessee workers’ comp laws provide compensation for lost or reduced wages due to your inability to work. These are called “temporary disability benefits.” If your doctor determines you are physically unable to work for more than seven days due to your injury or occupational disease, you will receive temporary total disability benefits.

Temporary total disability benefits are two-thirds of your average weekly wage at the time of your injury, subject to a statutory maximum. As of July 1, 2017, the maximum weekly benefit is $992.20. You will receive payment directly from your employer or its insurance carrier on a weekly basis.

If you are still able to work, but you’re earning less because you’re working fewer hours or light duty, you can receive temporary partial disability benefits. These benefits are the same rate as temporary total disability benefits and continue until you reach retirement age.

Permanent Disability Benefits

Once your doctor has determined you have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI), which means that further treatment isn't expected to improve your condition, your doctor will assess whether you have any permanent impairment resulting from your injury or illness. If you do, your doctor will give you an impairment rating. This rating, plus your vocational abilities (for example, your prior training), are combined to come up with your permanent disability award.

Permanent partial disability benefits are available for workers who are still able to work in some capacity. You will receive two-thirds of your average weekly wage at the time of injury, subject to a statutory maximum. As of July 1, 2017, the maximum benefit for permanent disability is $902 per week. The number of weeks is determined by multiplying your impairment rating by 450 weeks. The award may also be increased based on certain factors, such as your age, education, or ability to earn your pre-injury wages.

Workers are completely unable to work due to a permanent disability are entitled to permanent total disability benefits. These benefits are two-thirds of the worker’s average weekly wage before the injury, up to the statutory maximum mentioned above.

Appealing a Tennessee Workers' Compensation Denial

If you've been denied workers' compensation benefits or are unhappy with settlement offers made by your employers' insurance company, you can challenge the decision with Tennessee Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. For more information on appeals, see our article on appealing a worker's comp claim in Tennessee.

Tennessee Workers Compensation Office

For assistance with your workers’ comp claim, you can contact the Tennessee Bureau of Workers’ Compensation:

Tennessee Bureau of Workers’ Compensation
220 French Landing Drive
Nashville, TN 37243-1002
Phone: 800-332-2667

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