TN Court Rules against Nissan in Return-to-Work Case

August 15, 2011 ( – Tennessee's Supreme Court has found that a former Nissan North American, Inc. worker is eligible for additional workers compensation benefits because the company did not provide her a “meaningful return to work” opportunity.

According to Business Insurance, the case of Alicia D. Howell vs. Nissan North America Inc. involved a dispute over benefits entitlement for a night-shift production line worker who required carpal tunnel surgery in 2006 and 2007.  After a doctor released Howell to return to work, she resigned and alleged the injury affecting her hands did not allow her to keep up with the assembly line work Nissan provided. 

The news report said court documents show that in 2008, after working a minimum wage job and still suffering from hand problems, Howell filed a petition under a Tennessee law that allows injured employees to seek reconsideration of awards of permanent partial disability benefits if they are no longer employed by the preinjury employer at a certain wage. 
 In such cases, a trial court may award up to six times the employee’s medical impairment rating in additional permanent partial disability benefits if they do not receive a “meaningful return to work” offer and as long as the worker does not voluntarily resign or retire, and the law also limits permanent partial disability benefits to 1.5 times an employee’s medical impairment rating if he or she returns to work at a wage equal to or greater than their preinjury wage.  

A trial court awarded Howell a 25% impairment rating and additional benefits under the law, saying she did not have a meaningful return to work experience.  However, a Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel found Howell’s decision to resign was “unreasonable” and reversed the decision.  

The Tennessee high court disagreed and reinstated the trial court’s opinion, noting that Howell still suffered hand problems.  

– Tara Cantore