Can Employer Seek Reimbursement for Workers’ Compensation Benefits Paid to Employee Pursuant to Wrongful Court Order?

Posted on Nov 17 2014 10:49AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently decided a case that dealt with a situation where the plaintiff employer was ordered to pay for the workers’ compensation benefits (including medical treatment) of an employee.  See Roadway Express, Inc. v. Sammy T. Robertson, No. E2013-02797-COA-R3CV, 2014 WL 4793022 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2014).  The employer made those payments but appealed the Trial Court’s decision.  Ultimately, the Tennessee Supreme Court Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel vacated the Trial Court’s Order and found there was no subject matter jurisdiction by the Trial Court and, therefore, dismissed the employee’s Petition.  The problem was, the employer had already paid $152,511.59 towards the employee’s medical treatment.


As a result, Roadway Express Inc. filed suit against its employee to recover the payments made pursuant to the Trial Court’s Order in the workers’ compensation case.  The Trial Court dismissed the employer’s claim and found that the action was a workers’ compensation law cause of action and therefore the appropriate Tennessee workers compensation procedures had to be complied with in order to proceed with the cause of action.  Due to the fact there was no benefit review conference conducted, the Complaint was dismissed due to a lack of subject matter jurisdiction.  This issue was appealed. 


The Tennessee Court of Appeals found the trial court wrongly decided this issue.  Specifically, in a prior Tennessee Supreme Court decision, McCall v. National Health Corp., 100 SW.3d 209, 213 (Tenn. 2003), the Court specifically stated that “as we previously stated, a trial court can order the employee to reimburse any funds that were improperly paid to the employee.”  As a result, the Robertson Tennessee Court of Appeals’ decision found the Tennessee Supreme Court had previously held and acknowledged that a Trial Court may order an employee to reimburse his or her employer when the employee was wrongfully paid funds by the employer in a workers compensation case, as ordered by a court. Robertson at 4.  As a result, this suit by Roadway Express is an appropriate way to seek reimbursement from an employee by an employer when workers compensation benefits are wrongly paid. 


This is an interesting case because the employer filed suit against the employee outside the scope of a workers’ compensation case.  Under the McCall decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court certainly implied that an employer can seek reimbursement from an employee directly in this context.  Obviously, this can be difficult to collect; however, in this case the employer actually pursued this option against the employee.  This case therefore supports the position that an employer can sue an employee directly, outside a workers compensation case, to get reimbursement of money improperly paid pursuant to a court order.


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TAGS: Tennessee Workers Compensation, Employment Law
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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