Massachusetts Board Upholds Order Requiring Claimant to Pay Legal Proceeding Costs After Finding of Res Judicata

One of the most daunting aspects of a workers’ compensation claim is ensuring that you do not make any procedural errors early in the process that will have an impact on your ability to recover benefits. Consulting a seasoned Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer early in the process is one of the best ways to avoid the headaches that can arise from procedural mistakes, as the following recent claim demonstrates.

The claimant alleged that she suffered an injury to her back while working in December 2003. She notified her employer, which initiated a workers’ compensation claim with its insurance carrier. The carrier denied the claim, and the claimant appealed. An administrative law judge upheld the denial of medical benefits and incapacity benefits at the appeal hearing. After an additional series of appeals, the case made its way to the Court of Appeals of Massachusetts. This court affirmed the ALJ’s ruling denying benefit payments to the claimant.

In the years that followed, the claimant continued to assert claims seeking incapacity benefits regarding the 2003 injury. In each instance, the claim was withdrawn after the ALJ concluded that it was precluded based on a legal principle known as res judicata. This widely recognized legal principle holds that a matter cannot be revisited after a final judgment has been rendered after considering the merits of the action.

In January 2012, the employee asserted another incapacity benefits claim, admitting that it was identical to her prior claims. It was ultimately withdrawn, but the claimant then appealed to a judicial official, who sent her case to the Department of Industrial Accidents to undergo a special hearing known as a section 10A conference. At the end of the conference, the ALJ decided to deny her claim again. The ALJ overseeing the appeal entered an order requiring an investigation into whether the claim was brought unreasonably in contravention of Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws. Hearings were conducted regarding the small amount of evidence the woman was able to offer, and the ALJ concluded that she did not suffer a work-related injury warranting workers’ compensation benefits, despite the testimony regarding her back injury.

The ALJ also concluded that res judicata barred the woman’s claim and that the claimant and her attorney failed to assert the present claim with a reasonable ground for believing she was entitled to compensation. This is a direct contravention of Massachusetts laws, which require attorneys and claimants to have a good-faith belief supporting the allegations in the complaint or claim. As a result of this determination, the ALJ ordered the claimant and her legal counsel to pay for the costs of the entire legal proceeding.

The woman appealed again to the Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board, stating that the ALJ erred in concluding that her employer was not responsible for compensating the back injury. The board also upheld the ALJ’s determination that the woman and her attorney lacked a reasonable basis for bringing the claim.

If you are considering bringing a workers’ compensation claim after suffering an on-the-job injury, it is essential that you consult an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible. The process can be complicated, and you cannot afford to make procedural mistakes. At Pulgini & Norton, we pride ourselves on rendering knowledgeable and experienced legal advice to injured workers throughout the state. To set up your free consultation, call us now at 781-843-2200 or contact us online to get started.

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