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Massachusetts Appellate Court Explains Rules Regarding Impact of Independent Medical Examination Reports on Evidentiary Findings

Work injuries can be absolutely debilitating, resulting in a major disruption in your life, as well as the possibility of a permanent disability. One of the most important aspects of a claim is ensuring that the medical records are consistent with the injury that you’ve sustained and that the court follows appropriate rules when making evidentiary findings regarding the relation between your injury and your job duties. At Pulgini & Norton, our Boston workers’ compensation lawyers are prepared to help you understand your legal rights and to claim the compensation that you deserve.

A recent case discusses some of the evidentiary standards that judges must use when considering medical reports prepared by independent medical examiners. At the time of the injury, the worker was employed as a picker for five years with the same employer. He suffered an injury to his right shoulder and thumb that caused him to miss a few days of work. When he returned, he was assigned to light duty. Sometime later, he experienced a sharp pain in the injured shoulder and sought medical treatment. He did not return to work. Physical therapy did not relieve his symptoms so he underwent a fusion surgery that resulted in additional pain, lack of motion, and the inability to pick up things with that hand. Additional rounds of physical therapy proved unhelpful.

Regarding his physical limitations, the worker indicated that he was unable to care for his minor children, to take care of household chores and that he felt capable of performing full-time light duty work. He was examined by an independent medical examiner who concluded that the worker was reporting greater levels of pain than what would be expected and that there was no evidence to explain the second shoulder injury. Ultimately, the judge adopted these findings and the report’s finding that the shoulder injury was “not a workers’ compensation issue.” It also adopted a finding that the worker’s complaints outweighed the medical tests and assessments regarding the mobility and functionality of his left shoulder.

The worker appealed challenging the judge’s adoption of the independent medical examiner’s report finding that the employee did not suffer a compensable left shoulder injury. According to the employee, the report consisted simply of a conclusion of law and not a medical opinion supported by a qualified review of the medical evidence and the examination of the worker. For example, the doctor testified that there was no evidence in the record to support a significant left shoulder injury and that as a result, the injury was not a workers’ compensation issue. The judge cited this testimony, and the worker argued that the citation was tantamount to the judge allowing the doctor to make an evidentiary finding.

The employee also argued that the judge’s finding that the left shoulder injury was not compensable contradicted the judge’s finding that the employee’s testimony regarding the extent of his injury was credible.

On review, the appellate court rejected these arguments citing Massachusetts’ workers’ compensation law which states that the reports produced from an independent medical examination or deemed prima facie evidence and that a judge is required to accept the findings of the report as true absent any evidence to the contrary. Because the doctor’s opinion was based on his review of the medical records and his own examination of the employee, the judge did not err in relying on this finding to conclude that there was no causal link between the worker’s injury and job duties. Regarding the doctor’s testimony stating that it was not a workman’s compensation issue, the appellate court framed this as an imprecise explanation of the doctor’s conclusion that there was no causal relationship. Accordingly, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s findings.

If you were hurt on the job, our tenacious team of Boston work injury lawyers is here to help. We know just how frustrating and daunting this situation must seem for you and your family, which is why we offer a free consultation to discuss your situation and your potential options. Call us now at 781-843-2200 or contact us online to get started.

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