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Massachusetts Reviewing Board Finds in Favor of Employee in Appeal of Workers’ Compensation Benefits

The Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board recently decided an appeal in a workers’ compensation claim. In Comeau v. Enterprise Electronics, the employer’s insurer appealed an administrative judge’s decision awarding the employee § 34A benefits and § 50 interest from April 1996 and continuing. Ultimately, the Reviewing Board affirmed the benefits decision, only changing the interest award to begin on January 2010 and continuing.pallet-1239130-638x253

In December 1993, the employee sustained a herniated lumbar disc while working. The insurer accepted liability for the injury and paid § 34 benefits to the employee until he returned to work, at which time the insurer paid § 35 benefits until March 1995. In October 1995, the employee suffered another disc herniation on the job when he slipped on a wet running board of a truck and fell to the ground. Due to ongoing back pain, the employee has not returned to work since December 1995.

Following a lengthy procedural history of several kinds of workers’ compensation benefit claims, appeals, and recommittals for findings, the administrative judge rejected the insurer’s defenses, found that the employee suffered a new industrial injury in October 1995 that was a major cause of the employee’s disability and need for treatment, and ordered it to pay interest. On appeal, the Reviewing Board considered the insurer’s many arguments, in particular that the decision of the administrative judge was arbitrary and capricious in rejecting the insurer’s defenses of the statute of limitations, late notice, laches, and others.

In general, G. L. c. 152 § 41 provides a four-year period from the time of the injury within which a claim for workers’ compensation must be filed. Since the previous insurer joined the successive insurer to the employee’s claim in 1996, the Board found that it was the functional equivalent of having a claim filed against the successive insurer for the October 1995 injury, thus tolling the statute. The insurer also asserted that the employee did not give notice of his October 1995 injury as soon as practicable, as required by G. L. c. 152 § 41, in that the first report filed by the employee was in March 1996. However, the Board gave deference to the credibility finding of the administrative judge that the employee had immediately informed his employer of the injury. Therefore, the claim for late notice was rejected.

Laches is an equitable defense consisting of an unreasonable delay that results in some injury or prejudice to the defendant. Although there had been a long delay of almost a decade in bringing the case to a hearing, the Board found that the delay was not caused by the employee and affirmed the administrative judge’s decision. In addition, the Board found that the insurer’s § 1(7A) defense of prior injury failed, since the insurer could not point to any medical opinion that a pre-existing degenerative condition combined with either the 1993 or 1995 injuries caused or prolonged the employee’s disability or need for treatment, as required by the § 1(7A) defense. In sum, the Board found in favor of the employee regarding all of the insurer’s arguments except the award of interest, which should have been calculated from the date of notice given to the successor insurer by the previous employer’s insurer.

If you have suffered an injury in a workplace accident, you may be entitled to recover payment for your medical treatment and lost wages. The injury attorneys at Pulgini & Norton provide skilled and experienced legal representation to clients pursuing workers’ compensation benefits in Massachusetts. To discuss your claim with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, contact our office at (781) 843-2200 or online and schedule a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Appeals Court Finds for Worker Claiming Partial Incapacity Benefits, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published August 12, 2015

Massachusetts Appeals Court Denies Employee Total Incapacity Benefits in Workers’ Compensation Case, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published August 26, 2015

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