Massachusetts Appellate Court Vacates Award of Benefits to Injured Construction Worker for Improper Vocational Analysis

Injuries and medical conditions can be incredibly complicated, especially if they leave you unable to return to work in the same capacity. In a workers’ compensation case, one of the most important steps assessing your vocational options following the accident. If you cannot return to the same level of work, it may mean that you are eligible for vocational training and/or benefits. The dedicated Boston work injury lawyers at Pulgini & Norton have helped numerous individuals throughout the region with understanding their right to compensation in the Massachusetts workers’ compensation system.

In a recent case, the employee was working on a roof when the sheet of plywood that he was holding started to blow away in a gust of wind. He held onto the plywood, but the wind gust was strong, and he felt immediate pain in his shoulder. He went to a hospital and complained of a dislocated shoulder but ultimately returned to work. Three months later, he experienced a pop in his right shoulder when the bathtub that he was moving with another employee slipped. He went to the emergency room but left upon deciding that the wait time was too long. He worked for eight more months and reported to the hospital in 2010 with shoulder pain. He eventually was unable to report to work because of the pain.

After filing a claim for disability benefits, the worker was diagnosed with a right shoulder strain, chronic instability, and recurrent dislocations. The doctor who examined the worker concluded that these injuries were directly related to his occupation and the original plywood accident. He also concluded that the man was now permanently partially disabled. The presiding judge awarded only temporary total incapacitation benefits, however. The man tried to return to work but left when he was unable to lift a hammer due to the pain. He sought other employment but was forced to quit when the pain was still too great. Shortly after starting a vocational plan, he became incarcerated.

The worker filed another claim for benefits and the judge approved the claim. The insurer appealed and an independent medical examination was performed. The judge adopted this opinion, which found that a right shoulder surgery had been successful, and that the worker should be able to use his arm normally. When conducting a vocational analysis, the judge concluded that the worker spoke very little English, did not have a high school degree, and that his only background was in manual labor. Based on this, she awarded full benefits to the employee.

The insurer appealed again on a number of grounds including a challenge to the vocational analysis. The insurer alleged that the worker was fluent in English and only had minimal physical restrictions. The appellate court agreed that the assessment was flawed based on evidence in the record showing that the employee had a successful surgical outcome and that he only had minimal restrictions placed on his work abilities. Also, the appellate court concluded that the judge made inadequate findings regarding other things like the employee’s language fluency and ability to find work. Specifically, the judge did not make any findings about why the employee could not perform any meaningful work or about why he could not retrain to perform less physical work.

Based on this and other findings, the appellate court reversed the decision and remanded the action for additional findings

If you were hurt at work, don’t wait to learn about your right to workers’ compensation benefits. Our seasoned team of Boston work injury lawyers are standing by to help you fight for the outcome that you deserve. Call us now at 781-843-2200 or contact us online to get started.


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