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Massachusetts Appellate Court Upholds Award of Benefits to In-Home Care Provider Finding Formal Employee-Employer Relationship

A common question that we receive as Boston workers’ compensation lawyers involves situations where the employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance, but the employee suffers a work-related injury.  This situation often arises for in-home care providers who are hired by a family to take care of a disabled, sick, or elderly person. In many instances, the terms of these employment relationships can be vague and unclear. Our diligent team of knowledgeable attorneys is standing by to help you ensure that you are treated fairly and that you receive the compensation that you deserve.

In a recent case, an in-home care provider filed a claim against the Workers’ Compensation Trust Fund (WCTF) seeking benefits for an on-the-job injury. She filed the claim against the WCTF because her employer did not have workers’ compensation insurance on the date of the injury. The WCTF and the employee entered into a settlement, but the employer was not part of that settlement agreement and many procedural issues arose in the matter that created confusion among the parties. A judge has the power to join an uninsured employer in the claim, which the judge did so here.

The worker was working as a personal care assistant taking care of an elderly woman when she fell down the backstairs of the house. She did not return to work and eventually moved in with a cousin. Prior to starting employment, the worker and the elderly woman’s daughter entered into a verbal agreement about the job and the duties that it would involve. The worker testified that she often worked 30 to 40 hours per week providing assistance to the elderly woman, household maintenance, and clerical responsibilities. The court concluded that the worker was a formal employee of the daughter and the daughter appealed, stating that the parties had created an employment contract that covered only two hours a day to take care of the elderly mother and that there was no “firm agreement” requiring the worker to perform tasks during the rest of the time.

The daughter also argued that the accident did not arise out of the employer-employee relationship and that there was no employer-employee relationship to begin with and that the original agreement was room and board in exchange for two hours of work per day. The appellate court ultimately rejected this argument, finding that the daughter had failed to properly raise the issue of laws applying to domestic servants working less than sixteen hours per week, which absolves the employer of certain liabilities for accidents. Because she failed to raise this issue earlier in the proceedings, she was barred from raising it on appeal.

The daughter also tried to challenge the settlement on the basis that she did not have an opportunity to participate in its creation or to debate the terms of the settlement. The appellate court rejected this position, finding that the daughter had been involved in several hearings where the settlement agreement was discussed giving her ample opportunities to discuss the proposed settlement.

If you were hurt at work you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. At Pulgini & Norton, we focus on workers’ compensation claims and have substantial experience navigating the claims process. We offer a free consultation to help you understand whether you are owed benefits and the best way to go about asserting any rights that you may possess. To set up your appointment call us at 781-843-2200 or contact us online.

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