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An injured worker's temporary employment status should not prevent him from receiving the maximum workers compensation benefit multiplier allowed under Tennessee law, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Timmy Dale Britt worked for Lexington, Tenn.-based staffing agency Dyer's Employment Agency Inc., court records show. In September 2008, Dyer's assigned Mr. Britt to work at Mark IV, a maker of automobile hoses, and Mr. Britt developed symptoms of severe carpal tunnel syndrome in his right hand after three weeks at that job.
Mr. Britt underwent hand surgery in January 2009 and reached maximum medical improvement in April of that year, court records show. His physician released him to return to work with no restrictions, and assigned a 4% permanent medical impairment rating for Mr. Britt's right arm.
Mark IV ended Mr. Britt's assignment after he reported his hand injury, and Dyer's terminated his employment soon afterward as part of its standard business practice for the end of temporary assignments, records show. Though Mr. Britt applied for another assignment at Dyer's, the company did not hire him back. He went on to work as a security guard at an ammunition manufacturing firm, and he argued in court records that he did not have a meaningful return to work.
Tennessee workers comp law allows workers to receive maximum workers comp benefits of 1.5 times their medical impairment rating if the worker's pre-injury employer returns them to work at a wage "equal or greater than" their wage at the time of injury. Workers whose employers return them to a wage less than what they earned at the time of injury are eligible for maximum benefits of up to six times their medical impairment rating.
The Tennessee Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel awarded Mr. Britt 6% permanent partial disability benefits for his right arm, based on a multiplier of 1.5 times his 4% disability rating.
The court used a lesser multiplier after finding that Dyer's could not "be faulted" for Mark IV having ended Mr. Britt's assignment, and that the "inherently temporary nature" of Mr. Britt's employment with Dyer's limited the multiplier that should be applied to his benefits, court records show.
The Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously reversed that decision Tuesday. In its opinion, the court said that the higher multiplier should apply because Dyer's did not return Mr. Britt to work.
“While it is true, as the trial court concluded, that Dyer's cannot be 'faulted' for Mark IV's decision to end Mr. Britt's temporary assignment, this is not a relevant consideration under the plain language of the multiplier statutes,” the ruling reads. “The relevant inquiry is whether the pre-injury employer returned the injured employee to work at a wage equal to or greater than the pre-injury wage.”
Mr. Britt's temporary employment status did not matter in this case, the high court ruled, because Tennessee workers comp law does not distinguish between temporary and permanent employees.
The case was remanded to the workers comp appeals panel for further proceedings.