Massachusetts Appellate Court Upholds Reduction of Workers’ Compensation Benefits Award in Nursing Knee Injury Case

Even if you’ve been awarded workers’ compensation benefits, there is no guarantee that your benefits will continue. Employers have the option to file complaints seeking modifications of the award, which could change the amount of compensation that you receive. At Pulgini & Norton, our dedicated Boston workers’ compensation lawyers take pride in assisting clients with the claims process not only immediately after the injury but also throughout the entire claim. As a recent opinion illustrates, anticipating modifications and being ready to protect your right to benefits can make all of the difference.

The case involved an employee who suffered a right knee injury during her work as a registered nurse during November 2011. According to her testimony, the injury happened while she was providing assistance to a patient. The injury required her to take time off from work and to undergo a surgical repair for the knee. Although she returned to work, her chronic pain and associated symptoms required her to leave work in June 2012. She applied for workers’ compensation benefits, which her self-insured employer accepted.

The insurer provided temporary total disability benefits extending from December 2011 to when she returned to work, and from her last date of work and continuing. Some time thereafter, the employer filed a complaint to discontinue the temporary total disability benefits, which was initially denied. The insurer appealed, and the appeal was granted. After a series of medical examinations, testimony from vocational expert witnesses offered by each party, and a hearing, the judge adopted the vocational expert witness testimony of the employer.

Based on this report, the judge issued an order modifying the employee’s temporary total disability benefits to partial incapacity benefits and awarding medical benefit payments for the employee’s right knee only. The employee appealed, asserting three bases of error. First, the employee contended that the judge erred in adopting the medical restrictions that were inconsistent with vocational expert testimony. The appellate court rejected this argument, finding that the judge did not err in adopting the vocational expert’s opinion concluding that the employee could perform sedentary work.

Second, she alleged that the judge used the incorrect salary information to establish her earning capacity. After reviewing the evidence in the record, the appellate court rejected this contention. The judge based his determination regarding salary information on appropriate information, and the appellate court noted that judges have discretion when determining the economic component of earning capacity.

Finally, the plaintiff stated that the judge failed to use the correct legal standard when determining whether her right knee injury had also caused an injury to her left knee. The appellate court rejected this argument based on the employee’s failure to raise the issue earlier in the proceedings. In general, procedural rules require a party to object to a finding or conclusion at the time it is rendered, or they waive any right to object to the finding or conclusion at a later date. Since the employee raised this issue for the first time on appeal, the appellate court declined to review it. Even so, the appellate court noted that it was satisfied with the lower court’s finding that the left knee condition was a pre-existing non-work related injury. As a result of these findings, the appellate court ultimately affirmed the lower court’s decision, while making a slight adjustment to the employee’s earning capacity determination.

If you have been hurt while at work, you may be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits. At Pulgini & Norton, our seasoned team of Boston work injury lawyers is standing by to help you ensure that you receive the maximum amount of compensation that you deserve. Work-related injuries can be painful, stressful, and disruptive to your life. Let us help you ensure that your claim is handled in an appropriate and timely fashion. To schedule your free consultation, call us now at 781-843-2200 or contact us online.

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