Supreme Court Clarifies Procedures Governing Workers’ Compensation Settlements Approved By The Department of Labor

February 22, 2013

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that when the Tennessee Department of Labor approves a workers’ compensation settlement and accepts the statistical data form submitted along with the settlement, a court may not later find that the statistical data form is incomplete and set aside the settlement on that basis.  The Court also clarified the procedures for appealing a Department-approved settlement and for attempting to set aside a Department-approved settlement.

In Christopher Furlough v. Spherion Atlantic Workforce, LLC, Mr. Furlough injured his back at work on December 4, 2005.  On June 21, 2006, the Department approved a settlement awarding Mr. Furlough a lump sum payment of $11,500, corresponding to a 12.4% permanent partial disability to the body as a whole, and future medical benefits.  Almost two years later, on April 18, 2008, Mr. Furlough filed a petition to set aside the settlement.  The trial court granted the petition, relying on Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02(5) and its inherent authority.  The Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel affirmed, but on different grounds.  Among other things, the Panel found that the statistical data form submitted along with the settlement was not “fully completed,” and this incomplete form prevented the settlement from becoming final and effective.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court disagreed with the Panel and held that when the Department accepts a statistical data form, courts must defer to the Department’s determination that the form satisfies the statutory requirement of “fully completed.”  The Court also disagreed with the trial court’s ruling.  The Court acknowledged that Mr. Furlough could have sought relief from the Department-approved settlement either by appealing under the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act or by petitioning to set aside the settlement under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02.  Mr. Furlough did not timely pursue an appeal, and the Court concluded that the trial court erred in granting Mr. Furlough’s petition to set aside the settlement based on Rule 60.02.  The Court therefore reversed the judgments of the Panel and the trial court and dismissed Mr. Furlough’s petition.

To read the Christopher Furlough v. Spherion Atlantic Workforce, LLC opinion, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, visit the Opinions section of TNCourts.gov