Massachusetts Appellate Court Upholds Award of Permanent and Total Disability Benefits for Foot Injury and Psychiatric Condition

One common question that we receive regarding workers’ compensation claims is whether psychiatric disabilities can qualify for benefit payments. There are some instances in which psychiatric injuries will qualify for compensation. As with any other injury, however, insurers often take every step they can to fight an award of benefits in the employee’s favor. As seasoned Massachusetts work injury lawyers, we know how important it is to assert our clients’ rights vigorously throughout the entire claims process.

In the case, the employee was injured at work when she slipped and fell on a set of stairs. The injury resulted in several fractures in her left foot. Her employer accepted liability for her injury, including an orthopedic injury. The employee had also filed two prior claims for psychiatric treatment. At the time it accepted the foot injury, the employer accepted liability for the psychiatric sequela. The insurer paid partial incapacity benefits to exhaustion as well as some temporary total incapacity benefits.

The employee underwent a number of surgeries on her left foot that yielded some improvement, but she still experienced pain and discomfort when walking, particularly up stairs and on uneven surfaces. She testified that as a result of her debilitating condition and the symptoms associated with her foot condition, she experienced sadness, crying, and fits of anger. After a hearing, the judge presiding over the claim concluded that the employee was permanently and totally disabled due to her foot condition as well as her severe depression arising from the accident. He awarded her the remainder of the temporary total incapacity benefits.

The insurer appealed, alleging that the employee had not properly raised the issue of her psychiatric disability at earlier points in the claims process. The appellate court rejected this, finding that the parties had stipulated to the existence of her psychiatric disability and that the only issue to determine was the extent of the injury.

Next, the insurer argued that the judge committed an error when concluding that the employee suffered a permanent and total disability despite what it referred to as evidence in the record indicating that the foot condition had improved between 30 and 50 percent. The appellate court rejected this, noting that the insurer had taken testimony from the doctor who examined the employee out of context. Additional portions of the doctor’s testimony indicated that despite some improvement, the employee remained totally and permanently disabled as a result of the accident. Specifically, the doctor testified that he could not imagine any occupation in which the plaintiff would be able to work on a consistent and constructive basis without being in agony due to her condition.

The appellate court rejected the other issues that the insurer raised on appeal and entered a decision affirming the judge’s decision to award the employee benefits for her foot condition and psychiatric condition. It also ordered the insurer to pay the employee’s legal fees.

If you have been injured at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. At Pulgini & Norton, we have assisted many Massachusetts residents with understanding their rights following a work injury, and we are ready to do the same for you. Being unable to work even for a temporary period of time can be disruptive and stressful for the victim and his or her family. We will fight to ensure that your right to benefits following a work injury is asserted to its fullest extent. To set up your free consultation, call us at 781-843-2200 or contact us online.

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