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Saturn loses disability case

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld a Marshall County Circuit Court ruling that awarded disability benefits to a General Motor's retiree at the plant in Spring Hill.

Earl Douglas Tryon, 55, had been working for GM since 1975 and transferred from a plant in Syracuse, N.Y., to the Saturn plant. Thereafter, he suffered workplace injuries. The legal issue was whether he'd successfully returned to work after his first injury and the level of workers compensation he deserved in retirement.

On appeal, Saturn argued Tryon didn't deserve benefits awarded by the trial judge here, who concluded Tryon retired after 30 years due to pain.

"It certainly appears that Mr. Tryon 'toughed-it-out' until reaching retirement age and then promptly retired," Supreme Court Justice William Koch wrote in Nashville. "There is, however, nothing improper in Mr. Tryon's decision to continue working to achieve an employment benefit to which he is contractually entitled."

The Supreme Court ruling filed May 20 did not state a dollar amount to be awarded to Tryon. The justices concluded that a greater level of disability was appropriate compared to that found by a Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel.

Therefore, the case was returned to Russell for further proceedings.

Costs associated with the Tennessee Court of Appeals case were taxed to Saturn.

Lewisburg-based attorney Barbara Medley represented Tryon, who transferred in 1993. Saturn was represented by Marcia McShane Watson of Nashville.

That overview of the case is included in the Supreme Court ruling released last week. It includes descriptions of Tryon's medical history as outlined below.

Tryon injured his neck in May 1999 while transferring a container filled with parts from a pallet to a rack. Surgery was performed about a month later and Tryon returned to work without restrictions.

In June 2003, while riding a bicycle at the plant, Tryon was injured again as an overhead door was being lowered and struck him in the head. Subsequently, he was diagnosed with maladies between his wrists and thumbs and surgery was performed on his hands.

He later returned to work.

In August 2005, a doctor advised Tryon to consider retirement, indicating additional surgery would probably not provide relief.

Tryon returned to work in pain, but continued until November 2005 when he was eligible to retire with 30-years of service with GM. He said he'd have continued to work for GM had it not been for severe neck pain.

Tryon's workers' compensation trial was in March 2006.