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In this workers' compensation action, the employer, Shelby Williams of Tennessee, Inc., Defendant-Appellant, has appealed
from a judgment of the Circuit Court of Hamblen County awarding the employee, Barnett Vaughn, Plaintiff-Appellee, 80 percent
permanent partial disability to the body as a whole as a result of a compensable back injury that occurred on September 12,
1988. The trial court also awarded temporary total disability benefits from the date of the Plaintiff's back surgery, May
8, 1989, to May 23, 1990, the day of the trial, in addition to a 25 percent bad faith penalty pursuant to the provisions of
T.C.A. § 50-6-225(k). 1 Although five issues have been raised for our consideration, the question dispositive
of this appeal is whether the Defendant is entitled to a new trial in view of the fact that the trial court based its decision,
at least in part, on personal observations of the Plaintiff prior to trial, separate and apart from any judicial proceedings.
For the reasons set forth below, we reverse and remand for a new trial. The Plaintiff, age 48 at the time of trial with an eighth grade education, injured his back while in the course and scope
of his employment as a plywood bender on September 12, 1988. He was diagnosed as having sprained his spine. While continuing
to work, he was treated by two physicians for back pain throughout 1988, and eventually sought treatment from Dr. Norwood,
a neurosurgeon, in April, 1989. Surgery was performed on May 8, 1989, to remove a ruptured disc and some bone spurs. Dr. Norwood
assessed an impairment rating of 25 percent and urged the Plaintiff to seek vocational rehabilitation because he could not
return to his previous employment, which involved repetitive bending and lifting. The Plaintiff's work history consisted primarily
of unskilled manual labor.