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§71.7 Workers’ Compensation Lien - Future Medical Bills

The Case:  Cooper v. Logistics Insight Corp., 395 S.W.3d 632 (Tenn. 2013).

The Basic Facts:  Employee who was hurt on the job brought a third-party action. Employer, who paid worker’s compensation benefits, intervened.  Employee settled with third-party.  Employer, who was not part of settlement negotiations, moved to set its claim for trial.  Defendant moved to dismiss Employer’s claim for future medical expenses.  Trial court dismissed case.

The Bottom Line:


·       “This Court has twice addressed the employer’s subrogation lien for future medical benefits available to an injured employee.  See Hickman v. Cont’l Baking Co., 143 S.W.3d 72 (Tenn. 2004); Graves v. Cocke Cnty., 24 S.W.3d 285 (Tenn. 2000).  In both of these cases, we held that the ‘credit on the employer’s future liability’ does not include future medical expenses.  Hickman, 143 S.W.3d at 78; Graves, 24 S.W.3d at 288.  We reasoned that if an employer held a lien for future medical expenses on the proceeds of the settlement, the proceeds would be held hostage for an indefinite period to reimburse the employer when the employee sought medical benefits in the future.  Hickman, 143 S.W.3d at 78; see Graves, 24 S.W. 3d at 288.  If the employer held a lien for the cost of future medical benefits against an employee’s recovery from a third party, the employee would be unable to benefit from the proceeds of the recovery.  Id. at 639-40.


·       “We see no compelling reason to reverse direction in the absence of legislative action.  The dissent would have us usurp the prerogative of the General Assembly, reverse course on a settled issue of law, introduce uncertainty into the law, and undermine confidence in this Court’s decisions.  We are unwilling to do so.”  Id.


·   “We therefore reaffirm our holdings in Graves and Hickman.  MasterStaff’s subrogation lien against the proceeds of the settlement with the defendants in the chancery court action does not extend to the cost of future medical benefits to which Mr. Cooper may be entitled.  MasterStaff therefore has failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted.  See Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6).”  Id.


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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

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