Massachusetts Appellate Court Reverses Award of Benefits Due to Lower Court’s Failure to Address Every Issues Raised at Hearing

The Massachusetts workers’ compensation system has many different procedural rules, including rules about what a judge must consider in determining whether to award benefits and how issues within a claim must be resolved. If a judge fails to follow these rules, an appeal may be proper. At Pulgini & Norton, we have diligently served injured workers in Boston workers’ compensation cases and we are ready to help you assert your right to benefits.

In a recent claim dispute, the injured worker was employed as a machinist for over 30 years. He experienced a series of three separate work injuries. The first was a slip on a wet floor in 010 that resulted in a head, back, and neck injury. He continued working with some restrictions following physical therapy while declining surgery to treat his symptoms. In 2013, he suffered an injury to his elbow, arm, and neck while tightening fixtures. he received a course of treatment for this injury including cortisone injections and radio frequency denervation. He did not miss work as a result of this injury but worked with some restrictions.

The next year, the employee accepted a retirement buyout package from the employer. On the day of his last day of work, he reported experiencing back pain and checked himself into a medical clinic.

As part of his workers’ compensation claim, the worker underwent a medical examination with an independent medical examiner. The report that the doctor prepared concluded that the worker suffered a number of work-related injuries, while also experiencing the aggravation of pre-existing injuries. Based on this report and the worker’s testimony, the judge awarded partial incapacity benefits. The judge also indicated that the man had worked while experiencing pain for several years and that he retired because he did not want to continue suffering injuries at work. The judge also ordered the insurer to compensate the worker for his reasonable and necessary medical expenses.

The insurer appealed. First, it argued that the judge did not consider the entire scope of medical evidence presented, specifically the independent medical examiner’s deposition, noting that the lower court failed to address objections that were made during the deposition. The judge did not list, refer to, or discuss the deposition and both parties agreed that the matter should be remanded for additional findings on this issue alone.

The insurer also argued that two issues were left unresolved at a hearing that took place before the judge issued the order awarding benefits. First, it argued that the judge failed to take into account that the worker received the same wage even with work restrictions and that he could have continued working in his restricted capacity at the time of his retirement. The insurer also alleged that the court failed to consider whether the worker’s voluntary retirement rendered him ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

The employee argued that the judge implicitly concluded that the man was forced to retire due to the severity of his injuries and that he was having trouble performing even his restricted duty assignments due to his pain. The appellate court agreed with the insurer, finding that the judge must address every issue raised at a hearing. The court remanded the action for further findings on the two issues that the insurer flagged.

If you were hurt at work, call us today to schedule a free consultation to learn more about whether you are entitled to benefit payments and medical expenses reimbursement. We know how overwhelmed you probably feel with this situation, from navigating your recovery to coping with the financial stress. Our team is standing by to help you understand the Massachusetts workers’ compensation system one step at a time. Call us at 781-843-2200 or contact us online to get started.

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