The Importance of Understanding the Exclusivity of Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Benefits

The Massachusetts Appeals Court made a ruling in the recent case of Pagan v. Haddad, Mass. App. Ct. (2014), that illustrates the exclusivity of workers’ compensation payments under Massachusetts law.

In the case, the plaintiff employee had brought a civil suit against his employer due to an injury he sustained while in the course of his employment. At the time of his injury, the employer purportedly did not have workers’ compensation insurance for the employee, which is why he brought a civil lawsuit. (Remember, if an employee does not give an employer notice that he or she wishes to waive his or her workers’ compensation rights and retain his or her rights at common law, workers’ compensation is the sole remedy available in the case of an injury sustained during the course of employment.)

However, in addition to the civil suit, the employee also filed claims for lost wages and medical expenses with the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA). Thereafter, since the employer did have workers’ compensation coverage at the time of the incident, the employee was able to resolve his DIA claims by signing an agreement redeeming liability and accepting a lump-sum settlement on behalf of the employer. Therefore, the superior court judge ruled that the employee was unable to pursue the same claim through the civil suit, due to the principle of collateral estoppel. Collateral estoppel basically states that the same issue cannot be adjudicated twice, basically like a civil law equivalent of double jeopardy. The Appeals Court merely affirmed the superior court judge’s decision.

Massachusetts General Law ch. 152 regulates the operation of workers’ compensation claims under Massachusetts state law. Chapter 152 § 23 states explicitly that the filing of a claim or accepting of a workers’ compensation payment, or a lump sum payment pursuant to Chapter 152 § 48, shall constitute a release of the insured (employer) from “all claims or demands at common law, if any, arising from the injury.” This means that even by filing a claim, you are accepting that your situation is subjected to workers’ compensation, and you are thereby waiving any potential rights you may otherwise have at common law.

Therefore, it is important that if you become injured at work and the issue of workers’ compensation coverage is not clear, you understand that you have a choice to make. In the case discussed above, the Massachusetts Appeals Court found that since the employee was represented by counsel at the DIA hearing, there was no reason that the acceptance of the lump sum did not constitute a final adjudication of the matter, so the matter ended there.

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

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Appeals Court Invalidates Workers’ Compensation Waiver, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published January 15, 2015

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

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