Back Injuries and Workers’ Compensation Claims under Massachusetts Law

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts recently issued a brief decision in a workers’ compensation case, In re Okraska’s Case, Mass Ct. App. (2014), which may become problematic for employees living with back issues.

The case does not contain much factual information, but based on the discussion in the opinion, it seems the employee filing for the claim had some sort of underlying back injury or issue prior to the incident that occurred at work for which he was filing a claim.

In the case at hand, the employee appealed the denial of his workers’ compensation claim, stemming from a lower back injury he suffered in 2003. His claim before the Department of Industrial Accidents was denied by an administrative judge, and then it was later summarily affirmed by the department’s reviewing board. The employee then appealed that finding. The standard of review for workers’ compensation cases on appeal is found in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 152, § 12(2).

The employee’s first point of contention was that the administrative judge did not allow him to present additional evidence beyond that presented by the Impartial Medical Examiner’s findings. See, e.g., Mass Gen. Laws c. 152, § 11A(2). However, the Appeals Court did not find fault with this failure to permit the additional medical evidence, since it found that the language regarding the admittance of additional evidence was not mandatory, and it was necessary only when the IME’s evidence was inadequate or the problem was medically complex. Since neither of those appeared to be the case, allowing the additional evidence was discretionary, and therefore it was not improperly denied.

In reviewing the initial decision, the Appeals Court found that the administrative judge considered the claim on its merits, and it found that the employee failed to meet his burden of proof regarding the causal link between his current disability and his workplace injury. Readers of this blog may remember this necessary element:  there must be a connection between the incident that occurs at work and the resulting injury for which the claim is being filed.

In this case, the IME stated both in his report and during his deposition that the employee’s preexisting degenerative back disease, not his workplace injury, was the major and predominant contributing cause of his current disability, and the administrative judge made findings consistent with that report before dismissing the employee’s claim.

Therefore, the initial decision and the decision affirming that finding were upheld, and the employee’s claim was denied.

This decision may be concerning for employees who are living with back problems. It is not difficult to imagine a situation in which an individual has to engage in work while dealing with underlying back pain. Then, one day, something happens, and the injury becomes much worse, sidelining the individual completely.

If you become injured at work, especially if you have a preexisting injury, you’ll want to make sure that you’re represented by a workers’ compensation lawyer. At the law firm of Pulgini & Norton, our Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyers offer comprehensive guidance and representation in these matters. We will assist you throughout the entire workers’ compensation claim process. Call our office today at (781) 843-2200, or you can contact us online in order to schedule an initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:
The “Going and Coming Rule” in Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Cases, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published February 4, 2015

Massachusetts Signs Workers’ Compensation Misclassification Initiative, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published January 29, 2015

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