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Massachusetts Appellate Court Upholds Award of Total Incapacity Benefits in Bilateral Carpal Tunnel Injury Claim

If you were injured on the job, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. There are many different steps that you must take in order to receive benefit payments. One of these steps includes an assessment of your injuries and a determination of the extent of your injury, i.e., whether it is total or partial and whether it is temporary or permanent. The evidence presented in support of this finding is critical and insurance companies often fight awards of benefits on the basis that there was not sufficient evidence to support the judge’s ruling. As determined Boston workers’ compensation lawyers, we will ensure that you are treated fairly during the claims process and that you receive the maximum amount of compensation possible.

A recent Massachusetts appellate opinion demonstrates a dispute about whether there was sufficient evidence to support an award of benefits. The employee was 53 years old at the time of the dispute and had an eighth-grade education. She worked for 19 years as a machine operator in a job that was repetitive, strenuous, and required constant use of both of her hands and arms. The machines she operated manufactured plastic buckets and lids. During 2015, she began experiencing numbness in her hands. She underwent surgeries in October and November of 2015. Although she tried to resume work in January 2016, she was sent home when she reported throbbing pain in her hands and numbness.

In the workers’ compensation claim, the judge concluded that she was experiencing bilateral carpal tunnel and awarded total incapacity benefits as well as compensation for medical expenses.

The insurer appealed this award on the basis that the judge’s opinion relied on an improper interpretation of the employee’s physical limitations and that the findings did not reflect the employee’s testimony. For example, the judge concluded that the employee was incapable of performing basic duties and chores around the house like laundry, cooking, or carrying grocery bags. The insurer cited the employee’s testimony in which she stated that she experiences difficulty performing those tasks but that she does what she needs to do in her household, including the laundry.

Although the appellate court agreed that there were discrepancies in what the employee testified and what the judge concluded, the appellate court noted that the judge properly recounted the employee’s testimony in other portions of the opinion. For example, the judge stated that she is prevented from performing fine motor activities with her hands and that she has trouble with daily activities like doing her hair.

Because of this, the appellate court concluded that the discrepancies were only minor and did not constitute mischaracterizations of evidence in the record that would warrant a reversal of the award of benefits. It also noted that the medical evidence provided supported the judge’s award of temporary total incapacity benefits.

The appellate court also rejected the insurer’s argument that the award of benefits was simply not commensurate with the evidence presented at the hearing, contending that the claimant has a working capacity and that she was given custody of three grandsons and receives state benefits for her care of the children. The appellate court concluded that the lower court was correct to not include the child care subsidy in its assessment of the employee’s incapacity, which is directly prohibited under G. L. c. 152, Section 38.

If you were hurt at work, we are standing by and ready to assist you. We know just how confusing and overwhelming the workers’ compensation process can be for you and your family, which is why we offer a free consultation to help you learn more about our legal team and services. Call us now at 781-843-2200 or contact us online to get started.

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