Supreme Court Clarifies When Parties can File Workers’ Compensation Complaints in Court

August 21, 2012

Nashville, Tenn. – In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court clarified when parties may file a complaint in court in a Workers' Compensation case. 

On September 7, 2010, Walter Word, a Wilson County resident, allegedly suffered a work-related injury while working for Metro Air Services, Inc., a Davidson County business. The parties were unable to reach an agreement at the Benefit Review Conference. The Benefit Review Report noted that the impasse was reached at 10:24 a.m. The employee filed a complaint in Wilson County Chancery Court at 10:22 a.m. and the employer filed a complaint in Davidson County Circuit Court at 11:54 a.m. The trial court declined the employer's request to dismiss the case based upon affidavits filed by the employee averring that the Wilson County complaint was filed only after the conference ended.  

The Workers Compensation Law requires exhaustion of the Benefit Review Conference Process provided by the Division of Workers' Compensation. The Court held that when exhaustion is premised upon the issuance of a Benefit Review Report, neither party may file a complaint before the time noted on the Report. Also, when the time stamp on the complaint is earlier than the time noted on the report, the trial court must dismiss the case without considering other evidence offered to show that the complaint was not filed prematurely. In reversing the trial court, the Supreme Court decided that the Wilson County Chancery Court lacked jurisdiction and should not have considered the affidavits. 

To read the Walter Word v. Metro Air Services, Inc.opinion authored by Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark, visit  http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/wordw_opn.pdf.