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Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

Considering that workers’ compensation laws are specifically designed to simplify the process by which an injured worker receives benefits (such as payment of medical expenses or temporary total disability) due to an on-the-job injury, a surprising array of issues can arise.

For instance, sometimes there is a dispute as to whether the worker was an actual employee under the law. Disagreements can also arise as to which of multiple “employers” must pay a claim.

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Massachusetts voters may recall Question 4 on the 2014 election ballot last November, regarding whether or not employees should be able to earn and use a certain amount of sick time per year. Although the question was opposed by several business organizations and chambers of commerce, the measure passed and is now law.

Effective July 1, 2015, those who work for businesses employing 11 or more workers can earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time annually. Those who work for smaller companies can earn the same amount of sick time, but the hours will be unpaid.

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A Massachusetts worker was seriously injured while traveling on business. He filed a claim with the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents, asking for workers’ compensation benefits.

The good news is that the worker’s employer had not one but two policies of insurance that covered the worker’s claim. The bad news is that not even the federal court of appeals was sure how to allocate payment of the worker’s claim between the respective insurance companies.

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Workplace injury cases can be complex. Depending upon the facts of the case, a person injured on the job may be entitled to benefits beyond those awarded by the Department of Industrial Accidents. Although there are limitations on the usual workers’ compensation benefits overseen by the Department, lawsuits against third parties who caused or contributed to an employee’s injuries are not subject to the same rules.

For example, if a worker drives as part of his or her job and is injured in a car accident while in the course and scope of employment, the worker may be able to file a traditional personal injury lawsuit against the person who caused the wreck. (If the suit is successful, the employer may be entitled to an offset of any monies paid to the worker.)

In a recent case, an injured governmental employee sought benefits beyond that which were awarded by the Department. Unfortunately, he waited to late too file suit and lost part of the money to which he would have otherwise been entitled.

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Although some workers’ compensation cases are fairly straightforward with the employee as the claimant and the employer as the defendant, work injury claims can sometimes be very complex and involve multiple defendants and even multiple lawsuits. In situations in which an injured worker is successful in a case against a third party, the employer’s insurance company may be  entitled to repayment for monies it has paid out to the worker.

In the case of DiCarlo v. Suffolk Construction Company, the issue before the court involved a workers’ compensation insurer’s lien under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 152, § 15. In 2004, the plaintiff employee had an accident while working as an electrician for the defendant employer, a construction company. He was unable to work for two and a half years, during which he collected worker’s compensation benefits from the defendant’s insurer in the form of medical expenses and lost wages. In 2007, the employee filed a third-party lawsuit against the owner of the property on which the accident occurred and the general contractor of the project on which the employee was working at the time of the injury.

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Since mental and emotional injuries are not as easy to see as physical injuries, they are often more difficult to prove in court. This is true not only in cases such as automobile accidents and product liability lawsuits, but in workplace injury cases as well.

This is unfortunate because non-physical injuries can be just as harmful as more obvious injuries, such as broken bones or lacerated skin. Sometimes, emotional injuries are even more devastating to the person suffering from them than a more overt physical injury would have been.

In the recent case of Litchfield’s Case, a Massachusetts appeals court affirmed the decision of the Industrial Accident Reviewing Board agreeing with an administrative law judge who decided that an injured worker was not entitled to benefits for permanent loss of psychiatric function.

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On-the-job injuries are all too common, particularly in inherently dangerous occupations such as commercial fishing. The plaintiff in the recent case of Ramirez v. Carolina Dream, Inc., was a crew member on a commercial fishing vessel. He had been employed as such for  about eight years when, in late 2008, rough seas caused him to strike his jaw against his bunk and cut the inside of his mouth. According to the plaintiff, he suffered dizziness the following day and became weak and nauseous a few days later. The ship’s captain refused the plaintiff’s request to be brought ashore.

The plaintiff’s condition continued to worsen during the remainder of the trip. When the vessel finally returned to its home port, the plaintiff’s wife drove him directly to the emergency room. He stayed in the hospital for a month. After being home for a week, he was again hospitalized due to continuing symptoms.

His diagnosis was aplastic anemia, a rare condition that happens when the body stops producing sufficient blood cells. The exact cause of the plaintiff’s disease could not be determined, but one of his treating physicians opined that the plaintiff’s history of hepatitis C could be the culprit. Prior to the trip on which he became ill, the plaintiff had no symptoms and performed his duties well. Continue Reading ›

Not all workplace injuries are sudden and immediate. Sometimes, the damage to an employee’s body occurs over time, such as in cases of repetitive motion or prolonged exposure to noise or toxic chemicals. Beryllium is a hazardous chemical that, even through modest workplace exposure, can be harmful. People exposed to beryllium can develop a malady known as Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD). Those suffering from CBD have inflammation, scarred lung tissue, and impaired organ function. There is no known cure for CBD, but early detection and treatment can be of significant benefit to a patient.

Workers Bring Suit Due to Alleged Exposure to Beryllium

In the recent case of Genereux v. Raytheon, workers at a manufacturing plant brought a federal class action lawsuit alleging that they had been exposed to beryllium in the workplace. A second proposed class consisted of persons with “take-home” exposure. These people had lived with the employees during the time of the alleged workplace exposure. Both classes of plaintiffs sought to establish a trust fund that would pay for medical monitoring, including testing for a condition called beryllium sensitization (BeS). The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the plaintiffs had not presented enough evidence of their alleged injuries for their case to move forward.  Continue Reading ›

Hyannis and Portsmouth communities know that accidents may happen while at work, and they know worker’s compensation laws will help them with their injuries and loss of work. However, not all workplace injuries are caused by accidents and may be caused by the willful and malicious acts of another person. Some jobs deal with violent individuals and can be the subject of injuries from workplace violence. These injuries are also covered under workers’ compensation laws.

Workplace violence is the subject matter of Estate of Moulton v. Puopolo, a recent Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision. In the case, a twenty five year old treatment counselor employed at a charitable mental health facility had been violently attacked and murdered by a patient.

Employers in Massachusetts offer workers’ compensation to employees that will provide financial assistance for work-related injuries. Workers’ compensation helps cover medical and rehabilitation expenses as well as a percentage of lost wages. Continue Reading ›

Most employees in Hyannis and Plymouth, Massachusetts go to work each day and perform their duties expecting that they will be safe, yet work related accidents do happen. When a worker is injured during the course of employment, workers’ compensation laws allow the employee to recover compensation for their injuries. Workers’ compensation benefits help lift the burdens and stress of workers who have suffered personal injury or illness at work; however, when benefits have been denied, a worker’s stress will be multiplied. Consulting with an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney can help protect a Workers’ Compensation claim.

Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 152 § 26, a worker can claim workers’ compensation for injuries ‘arising out of and in the course of his employment’. Massachusetts’ courts have defined many rules to determine what actions arise out of and are in the course of employment. The ‘going and coming’ rule bars workers’ compensation claims for injuries caused during an employee’s commute to and from work.

However, there are several exceptions to the ‘going and coming’ rule. Recently In Re Carbone’s Case, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts ruled on whether an employee had an exception to the going and coming rule. An employee was allowed to drive an employer’s work truck between home and work. During one morning commute, a deer entered the roadway causing the employee to swerve into a guardrail and suffer injury. The employer had allowed this use of the truck in order to keep the truck in use throughout the year so that it would be in good condition during the winter to plow snow. Continue Reading ›

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