Massachusetts Appellate Court Reverses Increased Earning Capacity Determination in Injured School Teacher Claim

For many injured employees, understanding the extent and duration of the benefit payments they are entitled to receive is a priority. Work-related injuries can cause a serious disruption to your daily life, preventing you from engaging in your usual work duties and affecting your responsibilities at home and elsewhere. At Pulgini & Norton, we have guided many Massachusetts work injury victims through the claims process, and we are standing by to assist you. If you are injured on the job, it is essential that you receive a fair and accurate assessment of the nature and extent of your injury. As a recent appellate opinion demonstrates, whether you are deemed eligible to return to work is critical.

In the claim, the employee worked as a full-time teacher at an elementary school art facility. She eventually retired in June 2010. In 2009, however, she started experiencing a strain in her right shoulder, which she attributed to daily tasks including drawing on the chalkboard and operating a paper cutter. On November 2, 2009, she suffered a sharp pain in her arm but did not report the incident or notify anyone about the pain or her belief that she had developed an injury as a result of her job tasks. She continued to work until the end of the school year and eventually filed a report with her employer on September 13, 2010, regarding her injuries.

After undergoing a physical exam, the employee was diagnosed with right shoulder rotator cuff tendinitis and instructed to undergo a physical therapy program. She returned to her doctor when the pain did not resolve. A new doctor began treating her, who ordered a cervical MRI. The test revealed multiple level degenerative discs and foraminal degeneration and stenosis in regions of her cervical spine. The doctor prescribed pain medications and eventually prescribed over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication to manage her pain.

In her workers’ compensation claim, the employee testified in September 2009 that the pain was severe and restricted her ability to use her right arm. During a March 2014 hearing, she testified that the pain had subsided somewhat as a result of using her shoulder less and not working. She also testified that her pain increased with activity.

After an initial series of appeals regarding the judge’s award, the judge concluded that the employee was unable to return to her prior occupation as an art teacher, or to any jobs involving strenuous labor. The judge also concluded, however, that since the employee held a master’s degree in teaching, she could engage in other light-duty teaching assignments like tutoring in reading. Based on this, the judge awarded partial incapacity benefits, and the employee appealed.

On review, the employee challenged the judge’s determination that she had an increased earning capacity based on her master’s degree. On review, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s finding, noting that the lower court lacked sufficient evidence to support its conclusion that the employee could engage in other work. The appellate court rejected the lower court’s reliance on the employee’s indication that her pain had improved over time and the lower court’s conclusion that the employee was showing slight improvements throughout her treatment. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s opinion.

Suffering injuries as a result of your job is devastating and frustrating. At Pulgini & Norton, our compassionate and seasoned team of workers’ compensation lawyers is standing by to assist you with ensuring that you receive the correct amount of benefits and compensation for your medical expenses following a work-related accident. To schedule your free consultation, call us now at 781-843-2200 or contact us online to get started.

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