“It’s about how hard you can get hit, how much you can take and keep moving forward.”
– Rocky Balboa
Rocky learned many of the life lessons he now uses to help his clients while growing up near Buffalo Trail, in Morristown Tennessee, a small town about 35 miles east of Knoxville. At Central Point Baptist Church, he was taught the proper order of core values by his grandmother – faith, family, friends, and then finances. Rocky’s dad worked as a millwright. His mom was an aide for Head Start. The family lived paycheck to paycheck. Rocky watched his parents work hard for what little they had. They overcame obstacles and made ends meet. By their example, Rocky learned that if you work hard, you can make it.
On August 5, 1988, when Rocky was 15, his dad, Larry McElhaney, injured his low back at work. He filed a workers’ compensation claim, but the insurance company would not pay or provide timely medical treatment. Larry had no choice but to return to work and struggle through the pain. It took three years for Rocky’s dad to get the surgery he needed.
Rocky saw the stress on his dad’s face as he dealt with the physical pain of his injury compounded by financial worry as bills piled up. The family got evicted and had to move. For over three years, Larry dealt with the never-ending stall tactics and red tape of an insurance company that wrongfully refused to give him the benefits he had earned. He was worn down. Larry eventually hired a lawyer. The insurance company still refused to accept responsibility. In fact, in court papers, the insurance company denied it owed Larry anything for his injury. With the help of that lawyer, the family finally got justice.
It was at that moment that Rocky decided to become an attorney – to fight for people the way that lawyer fought for his Dad and his family. Rocky knows that hard working people who are injured should not be subjected to additional hardship because a big corporation or insurance company refuses to do the right thing. Rocky believes that injured people deserve an attorney they can trust to ensure that those that harm them are held fully accountable. Big corporations and the billion dollar insurance companies that back them should be held to the same standard we teach our children – to immediately take responsibility when they cause damage to another and fully pay for the harms and losses.
Representing only the people, not the powerful, over the past 18 years, Rocky has built this law firm to fight for people like you. What makes Rocky different is that he really cares about his clients. Every injured person is his dad and every ruthless insurance company is the one that impacted his family. From that viewpoint, Rocky and his team fight to make sure every client and their family get the maximum compensation for what they go through, not just a quick settlement. Rocky builds friendships with his clients, not just professional relationships. For example, Bridget Pack first hired Rocky in 2000 and they still text to this day. Rocky went to trial for Ernest Atkinson in 2002. Ernie and Rocky would meet at least once every other month at the Beacon Light restaurant on Highway 100 to eat breakfast until Ernie passed away in 2006. Rocky knows your name and your story; not just your case number and date of injury.
Rocky works hard and plays harder. He and his wife Penny have three rowdy boys and a baby girl. On evenings after work, he can be found pitching to his sons, chasing them down on their bikes and battery-powered 4-wheelers, or grilling in the back yard. He likes to SCUBA dive and snow ski. He enjoys Tennessee football games in autumn and Santa Rosa Beach, Florida in springtime. Rocky has an adventurous spirit which led him to jump out of an airplane to skydive, drive a NASCAR 155 MPH at Kentucky Speedway and cliff dive 35 feet into the Caribbean Sea at Rick’s Café in Jamaica.
Rocky is the founder and principal shareholder of the Nashville based Rocky Law Firm where he focuses his practice on significant cases involving catastrophic, brain and spinal cord injury, wrongful death and workers’ compensation. With multiple mid-state offices for the convenience of clients, Rocky and his talented team represent injury victims across Tennessee and throughout the Southeast.
Rocky was presented with the AFL-CIO’s 2013 Presidential Award in a special ceremony at the Music City Sheraton in August 2013 for his dedication and hard work for working families in Tennessee. In June 2013, the Tennessee Association for Justice honored Rocky’s commitment to and influence on Tennessee’s civil justice system with the organization’s Paladin Award. Also, in 2013, Rocky was named to the list of Super Lawyers of the Mid-South. Previously, he was named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers in 2011 and 2012. In December 2012, Rocky and his law firm were selected as one of Tennessee’s “Top Rated Lawyers” by American Lawyer Media and were featured on the cover of the publication. Since 2008, Rocky has been invited to be a member of the National Trial Lawyers Association which limits its membership to the Top 100 trial lawyers in each state. Rocky was named 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 Best of the Bar by the Nashville Business Journal, a distinction for the top lawyers in Nashville.
Rocky is a member of the Tennessee Association for Justice where he currently serves as Vice-President and is on the Board of Governors. In 2009, Rocky founded and co-chaired TTLA’s Workers Compensation Practice Group. Rocky is a member of the American Association for Justice. From 1998, Rocky served on the Board of Directors of the Nashville Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, serving as President for 2006-2007. He served an instructor of Intro to Law and Legal Writing at the Nashville School of Law from 2005-2008. Rocky received his B.A. degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and his J.D. degree with honors from Nashville School of Law.
Rocky has been involved in many landmark cases including the 2010 case against General Motors which allowed hundreds of injured workers to re-open closed cases to receive greater settlements and the 2011 representation of Helen Bailey, a 78-year old widow and civil rights activist facing an unfair foreclosure by Chase Bank. He frequently lectures on injury and trial related issues. He has argued before the Tennessee Supreme Court six times, clarifying or creating law for injured people across Tennessee.
- Nashville School of Law, J.D., 1999
- University of Tennessee at Knoxville, B.A., 1995
- Tennessee state courts, 1999
- United States District Court, Middle District, Tennessee 1999
- United States Appeals Court, Sixth Circuit, 2006
Significant Tennessee Supreme Court Cases
McCall v. National Healthcare, 100 S.W.3d 109 (Tenn. 2003). In case of first impression, Tennessee Supreme Court upheld trial court’s grant of pre-trial temporary payments and medical benefits in workers’ compensation case, holdng that trial court’s have authority to award such benefits without evidentiary hearing even after 1992 amendments to Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act.
Bone v. Saturn Corporation, 148 S.W.3d 69 (Tenn. 2003). In case of first impression, Tennessee Supreme Court reversed trial court award in favor of worker and two prior panel decisions in holding that when setting the compensation rate in workers’ compensation cases, the date of injury is date the injury is reported not the “last day worked.” Later reversed in Building Material Corp v. Britt, 211 S.W.3d 706 (Tenn. 2007), to make the law in Tennessee exactly what Rocky argued on behalf of Ms. Bone.
Brown v. Erachem Comilog, Inc., 231 S.W.3d 918 (Tenn. 2007). Ground-breaking ruling in occupational disease workers’ compensation cases which reversed the trial court and lower panel decisions and held that the statute of limitations begins to run when the disease prevents work, not treatment for the disease. This was monumental ruling for injured workers and revived the Brown case.
Thompson v. Peterbilt (companion case with West v. Vought Aircraft Industries, Inc.), 256 S.W.3d 618 (Tenn. 2008). Significant case in workers’ compensation cases involving the “race to the courthouse” created by the 2004 legislative amendments to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 50-6-203(a). Supreme Court of Tennessee held that the first to file a lawsuit established venue not the first to file and obtain service of process. One legal commentator (John Day) called this a change in Tennessee law.
Nichols v. Jack Cooper Transport, 318 S.W.3d 354 (Tenn, 2010). Case of first impression in Tennessee dealing with the impact of temporary lay-offs for injured workers in Tennessee. The high court ruled that a temporary lay-off can result in a “loss of employment” and established factors trial courts should consider. This opinion helps injured workers receive additional compensation in some circumstances.
Crowley v. Thomas, 343 S.W.3d 32 (Tenn. 2011). Rocky took this case to the Tennessee Supreme Court to challenge a 100 year old rule that permits defendants to appeal cases won by the Plaintiff from small claims court to Circuit Court and then dismiss the appeal on the eve of a jury trial. The Court upheld the practice as procedurally available to defendants.