Supreme Court Upholds Workers’ Compensation Law and Grants Award to Injured Worker

August 20, 2013

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of a workers’ compensation law that gives priority to the opinion of an independent medical examiner for the purpose of determining the disability rating from a work-related injury.

In 2008, William Mansell injured his shoulder while working for Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire. Two doctors evaluated Mansell’s condition but reached different conclusions about the degree of permanent impairment from his injury. One found that Mansell suffered a three percent impairment; the other assigned a ten percent impairment, which, if approved by the court, would result in significantly greater benefits. Because Mansell and Bridgestone could not reach an agreement through administrative means, the case went to trial.

Bridgestone asked the trial court to appoint an independent medical examiner for a third opinion, relying on the law that allows for such an appointment when the employer and employee cannot agree on the degree of impairment. The trial court denied the request, holding that the law, by declaring the independent evaluation as “presumptively correct,” improperly infringed upon the power of the court to determine which of the opinions was entitled to more credibility.

In the meantime, Mansell agreed to be evaluated by an independent medical examiner, who found there to be a seven percent impairment. After considering the content of the report, the trial judge held that even if the law did not meet constitutional standards, the evidence that Mansell had a ten percent permanent impairment was sufficient to overcome the presumption in the law.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, both Bridgestone and the Tennessee Attorney General defended the constitutionality of the law. Bridgestone further contended that the trial court should have applied the seven percent rating of the independent medical examiner because Mansell had not provided the proof necessary to overcome the presumption.

The Supreme Court concluded that the law did not violate principles of due process and did not constitute an infringement by the legislative branch upon the exclusive powers of the judiciary. While holding that Mansell was entitled to an award of benefits, the Court held that, because he had not submitted clear and convincing evidence as required by the law to contradict the presumption of correctness given to the independent medical opinion, he was limited to a recovery based upon the seven percent disability rating.

Read the Mansell v. Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire, LLC Opinion, authored by Chief Justice Gary R. Wade, visit.