Tennessee Supreme Court rules against injured worker on opioid dose

The Supreme Court of Tennessee ruled Friday that an injured worker who had been suffering from chronic pain from a shoulder injury and had been on high doses of opioids does not need another physician panel to possibly rebuke the findings of his doctor and a utilization review board that determined he needed to be weaned to lower doses.

When the worker was first assigned a doctor in 2009 following an award of lifetime medical care by his employer, Lebanon, Tennessee-based Goodall Buildings Inc., he had already been on a “high dosages of opioids to manage his pain” according to documents in C.K. Smith Jr. v. Goodall Buildings Inc., filed in the Tennessee Supreme Court in Nashville.

In 2015 his doctor voiced concerns over the high dosage and that the worker would become addicted. “Around the same time (his doctor’s) concern was reaching its peak, Employer requested a Utilization Review of Employee's medications and prescriptions … The Utilization Review Board recommended weaning Employee down. (His doctor) characterized the recommendation of the Utilization Review Board as follows: ‘(The Board indicated) there was insufficient documentation regarding functional benefits and functional improvement with the continued use of opioids. And basically . . . (the Utilization Board) felt like the risk outweighed the benefits.’” The doctor stated he "couldn't argue with a word they said,” according to documents.

The employee then requested a new physician panel, for which a trial court ruled in favor. On appeal, the Tennessee Supreme Court’s special workers compensation appeals panel reversed that determination, stating that it would violate state code. The case was remanded to the trial court.