Massachusetts Board Holds Employee Suffering from Pre-Existing Medical Condition Not Entitled to Benefits Because No “Repetitive Activity” That Exacerbated the Condition

In a decision involving a claim for Massachusetts workers’ compensation benefits brought by an employee who suffered from a pre-existing medical condition, the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents, Reviewing Board affirmed the administrative judge’s denial of benefits.  The Board focused on the judge’s determination that the employee’s injury had not been caused by work and specifically that his work-related tasks did not rise to the level of “repetitive” activity to have caused his disability.

Before his injury, and for 11 years, the employee worked by brazing, welding, and feeding tubes of copper into machines that made hot water heater coils.  The employee stated he spent much time at work brazing or welding. In December 2011, after feeling pain in his right knee, the employee notified his supervisor and completed his shift. He did not return to work for six days and sought medical attention.

The employer provided testimony that the employee did not often do coiling work and that he had not reported an injury on the day of the alleged incident.  Additionally, the judge heard testimony from the employer’s plant supervisor, who stated that the employee’s physical restrictions described by his treating physician after the December 2011 alleged injury were not indicated to be work-related.

After an independent medical examination pursuant to § 11A, the judge heard testimony from an examining physician who made clear that if the employee’s work had not involved repetitive activity, and if the employee had suffered from a pre-existing condition to his knee, it was most likely unrelated to work.

In her decision, the administrative judge had adopted the medical opinion that the employee suffered from pre-existing medical conditions that were unrelated to work and that his disability was caused by something other than work.   Specifically, the judge noted that if the employee’s job tasks required bending his knee in a repetitive manner, it might exacerbate his condition, leading to a work-related disability.  But the testimony indicated that only a small percentage of work tasks required the employee to bend his knee.

Focusing on the definition of “repetitive,” the judge held that the employee’s tasks were not in fact “constantly repetitive” and that the employee’s work had not exacerbated his condition, leading to his symptoms.

On appeal, the Board rejected the employee’s arguments. First, they stated the rule that they assume judges consider all of the evidence in their decisions.  While the employee argued that the testimony of a witness or a medical professional had not been considered, the Board stated there had not been an error. In fact, the judge had referenced testimony from both individuals in her decision.

The Board also noted that while the judge had focused on the phrase “constantly repetitive,” the doctor had correctly defined “repetitive” as meaning “more often than not,” as well as “frequently.”  Here, the judge had not accepted the employee’s testimony concerning the amount of time he spent coiling, and the judge found that only 10-25% of his work day was spent at that task. The Board stated it had been reasonable for the judge to find that there had not been a causal relationship between the employee’s work tasks and his alleged injury.

The Board affirmed the decision in favor of the employer.

If you or someone you love has been injured at work, you may be entitled to receive coverage for medical treatment, costs, and lost wages according to Massachusetts law.  The experienced lawyers at Pulgini & Norton provide dedicated representation to clients seeking a workers’ compensation attorney. We offer a free consultation and can be reached at (781) 843-2200 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Employee Denied Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Pre-Existing Condition, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, March 17, 2016

Reviewing Board Addresses Evidence of Pre-Existing Condition in Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Appeal, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, January 27, 2016

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