Massachusetts Appellate Court Reverses Award of Benefits on Basis that Lower Court Failed to Apply the Right Standard of Causation to a Pre-Existing Back Injury

Construction workers experience some of the most severe injuries and work-related physical ailments due to the serious demands of their jobs. It’s not uncommon for a construction worker to experience several injuries during his or her career, which can make workers’ compensation claims more complicated. If you experience a work-related injury that affects a pre-existing injury, the claim process will involve determining whether the new injury that occurred at work was a substantial cause in your pain and injury or whether it is primarily the result of your pre-existing injury. Although it may be tempting to navigate this process on your own, a seasoned Boston work injury lawyer can help you ensure that you are being treated fairly.

Recently, an appellate court considered a workers’ compensation claim involving a construction worker who experienced a number of work-related injuries throughout his extensive career, including a back injury that caused him to miss a year of work. In 2014, the employee filed a claim for weekly incapacity benefits as well as medical expenses reimbursements related to an injury he suffered while moving 50-pound sandbags that resulted in low back pain and pain in his right shoulder. He was unable to work the next morning because the pain was so intense, making it difficult for him to walk and to move his shoulder. The judge awarded benefits and required the insurer to pay for medical expenses, including a potential surgery.

Both parties appealed the order, and the worker was examined by an independent medical examiner. The parties resolved their dispute and the man underwent a series of medical treatments that did not improve his condition. He filed another claim for benefits, which the judge ordered along with additional medical benefits. The insurer appealed and the employee underwent another impartial medical examination. The judge concluded that the employee suffered a work-related injury to his shoulder and that the accident was a major cause in exacerbating his lower back injury and awarded benefits accordingly.

The parties appealed and the appellate court vacated the award on the basis that the judge did not apply the appropriate standard of analysis regarding the lower back injury. The judge erred by applying the “major cause” standard of determining whether a work-related injury is compensable when a pre-existing injury is involved. The error caused the judge to overlook any facts regarding the worker’s incapacity as a result of his lower back injury. As a result, the court remanded the decision for the judge’s additional consideration regarding the right shoulder injury and the lower back injury.

If you were injured at work and you have pre-existing medical conditions and injuries, it is critical that you protect your rights and that you understand how the workers’ compensation process works before you proceed with your claim. Pulgini & Norton has assisted workers with a broad variety of accident types including construction workers and other professionals. We provide a free consultation so that you can learn more about our services and whether you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Call us now at 781-843-2200 or contact us online.

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