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Massachusetts Appeals Court Invalidates Workers’ Compensation Waiver

boxThe Massachusetts Appeals Court recently reached an opinion in the case of Nguyen v. Eastern Connection Operating, Inc., Mass. App. Ct. (2014), which elucidates two potentially common issues in workers’ compensation cases:  whether classifying a worker as an independent contractor can circumvent required coverage for employees, and whether a workers’ compensation rights waiver may be valid.

In the case, the plaintiff Nguyen was hired to deliver packages for the company Eastern. One day, when he was making a delivery for the company, he was injured in a car accident. Even though the company had workers’ compensation for Nguyen, it did not submit a claim on his behalf until he filed suit against the company. In his complaint, the plaintiff argued that the company had wrongfully misclassified him as an independent contractor, that he was wrongfully denied workers’ compensation benefits, and that as a result the company was liable for his injuries.

The lower court judge held that, since there was no dispute over the fact that the plaintiff was an employee, and that workers’ compensation insurance was in place at the time of the accident, there was no subject matter jurisdiction, and therefore the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA) had exclusive jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claims. The plaintiff appealed this decision.

At the time he was hired, the plaintiff signed an Independent Contractor Agreement, stating that no workers’ compensation insurance would be obtained and that he, “waive[d] any rights he . . . may have [had] under the workers’ compensation law in all jurisdictions [in] which [he] or the company operate[d], and reserve[d] his . . . right if [sic] action at common law.'” Even though the contract specified that the plaintiff was an independent contractor, and that the company would not obtain workers’ compensation coverage for the plaintiff, both parties agreed that he was in fact an employee. Furthermore, the employer had a workers’ compensation policy in place at the relevant times.

In its opinion, the Appeals Court discussed the relevant workers’ compensation statute, Mass. G. L. c. 152, § 46, which states explicitly that, “No agreement by any employee to waive his right to [workers’] compensation shall be valid.” Additionally, the court pointed to the fact that the invalid provision was contained in an independent contractor agreement, and therefore it could not possibly be dispositive of the plaintiff’s rights as an employee. Furthermore, the purported waiver of his right to workers’ compensation did not amount to a notice of intent to retain his rights at common law. Thus, the waiver was neither valid as a waiver of workers’ compensation benefits, nor as a notice of intent to retain the plaintiff’s right to bring an action at common law.

Therefore, the Appeals Court, in affirming the lower court’s decision, invalidated the Independent Contractor Agreement, both in terms of the plaintiff’s role as an actual employee and as to the purported waiver of workers’ compensation benefits, in effect relegating the incident to the DIA for a final determination of benefits.

If you or a loved one have been injured or become ill due to an incident or incidents at work, you should contact the experienced Boston workers’ compensation attorneys at Pulgini & Norton today in order to schedule a free consultation. Contact us with a brief description of your circumstances. You can reach us through this website or by phone at any one of our Downtown Boston, Hyde Park, or Braintree, Massachusetts office locations.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Court Rules Against Employee in Workers’ Compensation Wrongful Death Case, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published January 8, 2015

Hasbro Fails on Appeal to Discontinue Workers’ Compensation Benefits, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published December 22, 2014

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