Massachusetts Appeals Court Rules Res Judicata Bars Workers’ Compensation Claim

In a recently released opinion, In re Richards’s case, App. Ct. Mass. (2015), the Appeals Court of Massachusetts had before it an issue of whether the doctrine of res judicata barred the employee’s claim. The case stemmed from an alleged injury that occurred in December 2003.

In May 2005, the employee had filed a workers’ compensation claim, which was heard by an administrative judge, and an opinion that was written stated that the employee had failed to meet the burden of proof required to establish that she sustained an injury arising out of and in the course of her employment. She was unable to establish that lifting boxes contributed to her injury, or rather that she suffered subsequent disability from employment. The decision in that case was affirmed by an appellate board and affirmed again by the Appeals Court.

The employee did not appeal the case further, but she did claim subsequent periods of disability and allegedly attempted three separate claims stemming from the same event. On each occasion, the claim was withdrawn as barred by res judicata.

In January 2012, nearly nine years after the initial incident, the employee brought a fourth claim. Although it was attempted to be prevented on the res judicata basis, the senior judge stated that the underlying conclusions reached in the initial opinion, regarding that the employee had been lifting boxes, would be allowed, but that if there were insufficient evidence to support the injury claim, the employee’s lawyer could potentially be subject to sanctions.

The judge who heard the case found that the compensation claim was barred and that the employee had failed to demonstrate that a compensable injury had occurred. The judge levied the cost of the appeal on the employee’s attorney.

The principle of res judicata states that a question or fact that is at issue in a case, and examined by a court, cannot be disputed in a later case between the same parties. Here, then, where there has been no challenge regarding the nature of what happened to the employee in the course of the initial incident, the issue cannot be re-litigated. The employee attempted to argue that, although she was not entitled to benefits in the initial decision, the judge did find an incident that could be compensable. The Appeals Court disagreed and ultimately affirmed the lower court judge’s decision to rule the case untriable under res judicata.

If you have been injured or become sick due to your work, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. The experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyers at Pulgini & Norton offer comprehensive guidance and representation in these matters. We can 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:

Massachusetts Appeals Court Sides with Injured Correctional Officer in Workers’ Compensation Case, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published June 26, 2015

Alleged Workers’ Compensation Fraud in Massachusetts Asbestos Abatement Company, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published June 19, 2015

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