Following an injury at work, a Massachusetts workers’ compensation claimant may or may not be able to return to his or her previous job. In cases in which the worker is unable to go back to the employment in which he or she was engaged at the time of the accident or work-related illness, he or she may be able to seek permanent disability payments.
Of course, the employer or its insurance company may oppose the worker’s claim, averring that the worker’s injury or illness did not result in a permanent disability. When the parties cannot agree, it is up to a workers’ compensation administrative law judge to make a determination of the specific benefits to which the injured worker is entitled.
If either party is displeased with the result, there is an appellate procedure in place.
Facts of the Case
In a recent (unreported) case, the plaintiff was a woman who had multiple work-related accidents while employed as a security patrol officer. She last worked in 2012, a few months before undergoing surgery on her left knee. An administrative law judge found that the plaintiff was permanently, totally disabled from returning to her previous job and ordered the insurer to pay both temporary and permanent benefits to the employee. The reviewing board of the Department of Industrial Accidents affirmed the administrative law judge’s decision, and the insurer appealed.
Holding of the Court
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the holding of the board. Although the insurer argued that the administrative law judge’s determination that the employee was totally incapacitated was arbitrary and capricious because he did not perform a complete vocational analysis, the appeals court disagreed. First, the court pointed out that, contrary to the insurer’s argument, an earnings capacity analysis is required for a determination of partial disability benefits but not total incapacitation benefits. Since the administrative law judge found the plaintiff totally incapable of finding gainful employment, no additional vocational or earnings analysis was necessary.
The court also noted that the administrative law judge had based his opinion that the plaintiff was totally incapacitated on not only three separate medical experts (including a medical examiner) but also on the plaintiff’s own “consistent testimony.” All of these witnesses agreed that the plaintiff’s ability to walk, sit, drive, and concentrate were all affected by the pain caused by her injuries. Thus, the administrative law judge’s opinion was amply supported by the evidence.
In so holding, the court acknowledged that the assessment of the credibility of the respective witnesses’ testimony was the exclusive function of the administrative law judge, rather than the appellate court.
Schedule a Consultation with a Helpful Cape Cod Workers’ Compensation Attorney
Those who have been hurt at work may be entitled to a number of benefits, including both short term disability payments and, in some cases, permanent disability benefits. The Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, in Cape Cod can help you understand and assert your legal rights. Call us at 888-262-6664 to schedule a free consultation.
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