Massachusetts Board Reverses Order Upon Finding that Impartial Medical Expert Testimony was Contradictory in Nature

Since workers’ compensation claims involve medical conditions and injuries, the consideration of testimony from treating physicians plays a pivotal role in determining whether an employee is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits and how long these payments should continue. As seasoned Massachusetts work injury lawyers, we know just how critical medical expert testimony can be in your claim. A recent case demonstrates how problematic conflicting medical testimony can be for a claimant.

The claimant alleged that he suffered injuries to his back when he was lifting a piece of equipment while working. The man said that he required back surgery and that he did not return to his usual occupation afterward. After a workers’ compensation claim was initiated, the employer accepted liability and paid total disability benefits to the employee from the day that the injury occurred forward.

Three years later, an ALJ denied a request from the employer to lower the weekly benefit payment amounts. Shortly thereafter, the claimant filed a claim seeking permanent and total incapacity benefits pursuant to § 34A. In response to this petition, the employer asked the court to issue an order alleviating it from paying any and all future benefit payments to its former employee.

A hearing was held on both requests, and the employer argued that the claim for permanent benefits ought to be denied based on § 1(7A) because the man suffered from a pre-existing condition that extended the work injury. Following the hearing, the claimant underwent a medical examination by an impartial physician. Since the claimant’s physical condition was complex, the ALJ permitted supplemental medical testimony from the impartial doctor. This testimony was allowed in evidence, and the impartial doctor was deposed at a later hearing. After the testimony, the ALJ denied multiple motions from the claimant to provide testimony from his medical expert.

The ALJ concluded that the impartial doctor’s testimony was accurate and that the injury was a major cause of the claimant’s current condition. The ALJ then issued an order awarding the employee permanent disability benefits. The judge also noted, however, that the work injury was not specifically the primary cause of the claimant’s back pain.

The employer appealed to the Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board, which concluded that the ALJ did not appropriately interpret the impartial doctor’s testimony, finding that the testimony involved a number of contradictions. Specifically, it found that the doctor contradicted herself without giving consideration to supplemental evidence or providing a clarification about the contradiction. The Board made it clear that an ALJ is not authorized to choose the version of the testimony that they want to adopt. Because of the ambiguous nature of the testimony, the Board stated that the ALJ should have allowed the employee’s request to offer additional expert medical testimony. The Board then vacated the order and remitted the case for consideration of the additional evidence.

If you are involved in a work-related accident, you may be entitled to disability benefit payments. At Pulgini & Norton, our Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyers know just how daunting the claims process can be for you and your family. We will assist you with every phase of the claims process, ensuring that your rights are asserted to the fullest degree and that you understand what is happening in your claim. To schedule your free consultation, call us now at 781-843-2200 or contact us online to get started.

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