Massachusetts Court of Appeals Discontinues Workers’ Compensation in Decades-Old Case

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals made a ruling recently in a workers’ compensation case that sheds some light on what happens when new evidence regarding workers’ compensation injuries comes to light decades after the incident occurs.

In the case, In re Baillargeon’s Case, Mass. Ct. App. (2014), the employee Dorothy Baillargeon suffered an injury in 1978 during the course of her duties as a nurse at a Commonwealth hospital, when a patient kicked her in the left temple region of her head. As a result of emotional and physical symptoms, the employee pursued a workers’ compensation claim. The impartial medical examiner who examined her in 1984 concluded that the accident resulted in a contusion of the employee’s left temporal lobe, and that it caused post-concussion symptoms including hostility, emotional dysfunction, depression, and more. As a result, he concluded that she had no capacity for performance of employment duties. A psychologist concurred in the prognosis and classified the employee’s resultant incapacity for employment as total and permanent. She was thus deemed entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

In 2007, for reasons not revealed in the text of the opinion, the employer requested a discontinuance of the workers’ compensation benefits on the basis that any ongoing incapacity or injury were no longer causally related to the 1978 accident. The administrative judge in the case requested evaluations by two psychiatrists and one neurologist, due to the complexity of the medical issues involved in the case. The employee’s 30-year treatment record was also included in the evidentiary record before the judge.

The impartial medical examiner’s conclusions, with which the other two doctors concurred, were that  the employee suffered from emotional disorders, probably bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder, and that these were responsible for her depression, hostility, and related issues. Furthermore, both of those disorders were genetic or hereditary in nature and tended to manifest in early adulthood, likely in this employee a year or so after the accident occurred. It was those disorders that limited her ability to keep a meaningful job, and they were therefore not attributable to the incident that occurred at work.

On the basis of these three reports, the administrative judge ruled that the continuing injuries suffered by the employee were not related to the initial work accident and therefore ruled that benefits were no longer proper. The employee appealed.

The Court of Appeals reviewed the records, finding that the judge did not err in relying on the independent medical examiner’s report. “In addition to the extensive opinion of the impartial medical examiner here, two physicians provided substantial concurring assessments of the causal relationship, or lack of a causal relationship, between the industrial accident and the employee’s physical and emotional health…” Furthermore, the only evidence presented to counter these findings was periodic evaluations, rather than live testimony.

Therefore, the court found that the reliance on the evidence presented was rational, and not arbitrary or capricious. Therefore, the decision to discontinue benefits was affirmed.

If you have been injured or become sick due to a work-related incident in Massachusetts, you may be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits. At Pulgini & Norton, our Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyers offer comprehensive guidance and representation in workers’ compensation cases. Call our office today at (781) 843-2200, or you can contact us online in order to schedule an initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Law and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published February 18, 2015

Back Injuries and Workers’ Compensation Claims under Massachusetts Law, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published February 11, 2015


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