Brief Summary: An employer’s subrogation lien found in T.C.A. § 50-6-112 for benefits paid in a workers compensation case does not include future medical benefits for the employee.
Analysis: The Tennessee Supreme Court recently reconsidered whether an employer was entitled to a subrogation lien for the cost of future medical benefits for an employee in the decision of Joshua Cooper v. Logistics Insight Corp., No. M2010-01262-SC-R11-CV, 2013 WL 163976 (Tenn. 2013). This case specifically dealt with the scope of the employers subrogation rights found in T.C.A. § 50-6-112. It appears the reason the Tennessee Supreme Court took this case (despite having handed down prior decisions on this issue) was because the Tennessee Court of Appeals held that future medical expenses in this case were not too speculative as a matter of law and therefore could possibly be included in the employer's subrogation lien. Joshua Cooper v. Logistics Insight Corp., No. M2010-01262-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 1874577, at *4, *5 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 16, 2011).
The statute in question is T.C.A. § 50-6-112(c) which addresses an employer's subrogation rights for workers compensation benefits. The pertinent part of the statute provides as follows:
(c)(1) In the event of a recovery against the third person by the worker, or by those to whom the worker's right of action survives, by judgment, settlement or otherwise, and the employer's maximum liability for workers' compensation under this chapter has been fully or partially paid and discharged, the employer shall have a subrogation lien against the recovery, and the employer may intervene in any action to protect and enforce the lien.
(2) In the event the net recovery by the worker, or by those to whom the worker's right of action survives, exceeds the amount paid by the employer, and the employer has not, at the time, paid and discharged the employer's full maximum liability for workers' compensation under this chapter, the employer shall be entitled to a credit on the employer's future liability, as it accrues, to the extent the net recovery collected exceeds the amount paid by the employer.
(3) In the event the worker, or those to whom the worker's right of action survives, effects a recovery, and collection of that recovery, from the other person, by judgment, settlement or otherwise, without intervention by the employer, the employer shall nevertheless be entitled to a credit on the employer's future liability for workers' compensation, as it accrues under this chapter, to the extent of the net recovery.
As a result, in this case the Tennessee Supreme Court addressed "whether Tennessee Code Annotated § 50-6-112 grants an employer a subrogation lien for the cost of future medical expenses against the proceeds of an employee's lawsuit against a third-party tortfeasor." The court noted the Tennessee Supreme Court had previously ruled on this issue in Hickman v. Cont'l Banking Co., 143 S.W.3d 72 (Tenn. 2004) and Graves v. Cocke County, 24 S.W.3d 285 (Tenn. 2000) and "in both of these cases we held that the credit on the employer's future liability does not include future medical expenses." Cooper at 5.
In Cooper the Tennessee Supreme Court reviewed the Graves and Hickman decisions and found there was no compelling reason to reverse the reasoning in those two cases especially because the legislature had not made any changes to the law since those decisions came out. As a result, the court found that the employer's “subrogation lien against the proceeds of the settlement with the defendants in the chancery court action does not extend to the cost of future medical benefits to which Mr. Cooper may be entitled." Cooper at 6.