Settlement is on every injured worker's mind at some point during their Tennessee workers' compensation case. A settlement is an agreement between an injured worker and employer to close out the workers' comp case in exchange for a sum of money. In most cases, settlements are paid in a lump sum.
Before you can settle your workers' comp case in Tennessee, you must be at maximum medical improvement (MMI)—the point at which your doctor declares that your condition is as good as it's going to get. Once you reach MMI, your doctor will assign a value to your disability, in the form of a percentage rating. Only then is your case eligible for settlement.
Tennessee has a mandatory dispute resolution process before an injured worker is permitted to proceed to a workers' comp hearing against the employer. In other words, Tennessee requires the injured the worker to try to work out a settlement amicably through a "benefits review conference" (BRC) before litigating the issue at a hearing before a judge. The parties are also free to come to a settlement on their own before a BRC.
When you accept a settlement offer, you will be giving up important rights in your workers' comp case. You will also be waiving your right to a workers' compensation hearing.
Your right to future medical care is one of the most important rights you might be waiving if you settle your case. Closing out your future medical care means that any further treatment won't be paid for by workers' compensation after the date of settlement. If you are permanently and totally disabled as a result of your injury, Tennessee law does not allow you to release your right to future medical care. In all other cases, you are free to do so.
In most cases, the insurance company will require you to waive your right to all future workers' comp benefits, including medical care. After all, the insurance company's goal is to close out your claim for good. In rare cases, however, the insurance company will agree to keep your medical rights open after settlement—such as when you'll need extensive future medical care and a Medicare set-aside would be very costly. (For more information about Medicare set-asides, read our article on deductions from workers' comp settlements.)
A benefits review conference must be requested within 30 days after reaching MMI. A representative of the insurance company and a worker's compensation specialist from the Tennessee Bureau of Workers' Compensation will be present at your BRC, in addition to you and your attorney (if you have one).
The job of the workers' compensation specialist is to hear arguments from both sides about what your case is worth, and try to help you reach an agreement. There will be some back and forth negotiations during the BRC between you and the insurance company, or your respective attorneys.
If you come to an agreement on settlement at the BRC, settlement contracts can be prepared on the spot by the workers' compensation specialist.
All settlements must be approved by the Bureau of Workers' Compensation; until then, the settlement is not final. Once you reach a settlement with the insurance company, your settlement documents will be submitted to a judge at the Bureau of Workers' Compensation. The judge has three business days to approve or reject the settlement.
A judge might reject a settlement because the terms are too broad, the numbers are mathematically incorrect, or the terms are inconsistent or contradictory. If your case is disputed, the judge's job is also to make sure that the settlement is in your best interests.
Once the settlement is approved, the insurance company will cut the check. If you have a lawyer, attorneys' fees and costs will be deducted from the settlement.
The value of your claim depends on the nature of your injury, medical treatment recommendations, ability to return to work, and the body part injured. To get an idea of how much you might be entitled to, read our article on types and amounts of workers' comp benefits in Tennessee. However, other factors will influence the value of your claim, including whether there is conflicting evidence in your case and your likelihood of winning at a hearing.
Most likely, yes. Some injured workers are hesitant to hire an attorney because they think it will upset their employer or cause ill will in the workplace. However, attending a BRC alone and signing off on settlement without representation is very risky. Handling your claim without an attorney might cause you to miss important filing deadlines or sign off on binding settlement terms that you don't fully understand. If you're considering going through the process unrepresented, read our article on handling your workers' comp case on your own.