Massachusetts Appellate Board Upholds Award of Benefits to Man with Spinal Injury Despite Employer’s Pre-Existing Condition Challenge

In a workers’ compensation claim, medical experts are often used to help the administrative law judge determine many aspects of the issues involved, including the nature of the employee’s injury, whether the injury was completely a result of the worker’s job duties, and whether the condition will resolve over time. At Pulgini & Norton, our experienced team of Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyers has handled numerous claims on behalf of injured workers and assisted them with ensuring that they receive the maximum amount of benefits that they deserve.

In a recent appellate opinion, the court discussed administrative law judges’ ability to rely on and adopt a medical expert’s opinion. The worker in the case was a man in his 50s working as a laborer with heavy equipment for the City of Pittsfield. The man claimed that he suffered a back injury while operating road equipment during 2008. Roughly one year later, he suffered another work-related injury. In 2012, he underwent a spinal surgery procedure.

The man then had an examination with a neutral medical doctor, but the administrative law judge ruled the exam insufficient due to the complexity of the medical issues involved. Sometime thereafter, the employer accepted liability for the second injury but claimed it stemmed from a pre-existing injury and other medical conditions. After another hearing, the administrative law judge concluded that all of the man’s injuries were related to his workplace activities. The employer was ordered to pay benefits to the man as a result.

The employer appealed, arguing that the judge did not properly consider all of the evidence regarding the medical conditions and their origin. In rejecting this position, the reviewing board stated that the judge appropriately considered the medical evidence provided and indicated that he had reviewed all of the evidence in his opinion. Furthermore, the board reiterated that a judge is not required to provide an explanation regarding why he or she adopts the testimony of one expert witness over another.

The reviewing board also rejected the employer’s claim that the judge did not adequately consider whether the man’s injuries derived from a pre-existing condition. The judge appropriately relied on the medical expert’s evidence to conclude that the injury was directly caused by the man’s workplace activities. It also noted that the judge listed each item of evidence as an exhibit, which indicated that the evidence was considered as part of his decision. Finally, the reviewing board upheld the lower judge’s decision to award benefit payments to the employee and instructed the insurer to pay for the worker’s legal fees.

If you or someone you love suffered injuries while on the job, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Massachusetts has enacted a number of laws to help protect injured workers, but many of these laws also have specific requirements and procedural hurdles that must be followed carefully. At Pulgini & Norton, we proudly provide legal guidance to injured workers throughout Boston. We offer a free consultation to help you learn more about whether you are entitled to compensation and how we may be able to assist you. To schedule your appointment, call us now at 781-843-2200 or contact us online.

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