Massachusetts Court Holds Workers’ Compensation Law Provides for Interest from Filing Date of Claim Ultimately Resulting in Award of Benefits

According to Massachusetts workers’ compensation law, interest must be assessed on unpaid claims from the date the Department of Industrial Accidents receives notice of the claim.  At issue in a recent case before the Massachusetts Court of Appeals was whether interest would begin as of the date the Department receives notice of a claim that leads to an award of benefits, or whether interest would run from the employee’s filing date of an earlier, similar claim that was eventually terminated.

After suffering injuries in 1993 in the course and scope of employment, the employee in this case filed a claim and received workers’ compensation benefits for total incapacity until he was able to return to work. He suffered another injury in 1995 and stopped work, according to the recommendation of his physician, and he had not worked since.

In April 1996, the employee filed a claim for his second injury, and it was denied.  For the following 11 years, the litigation “languished,” according to the Court of Appeals. Eventually, the pending proceedings were terminated, without reaching a final adjudication.

In 2008 and 2009, the employee filed and withdrew claims, eventually filing a claim for benefits in January 2010.  The employee was awarded benefits for permanent and total incapacity from the date of his first claim relating to his second injury.  Interest, under § 50 of the Workers’ Compensation Act, was to accrue from the filing date of the most recent claim (January 2010).  The employee appealed, arguing that he was entitled to interest from December 1996, when the Department received notice of his claim for his second injury.

At issue on appeal was whether the Board acted arbitrarily when it held that “claim,” according to Massachusetts law, refers to the formal filing that begins the adjudicatory process that eventually leads to an award of benefits.  The rule, set forth by the court, is that if the term is ambiguous, they look at the Board’s interpretation.  Turning to the statute, the court stated that interest is imposed if a decision or order requires unpaid benefits to be paid. If there is not an order or decision that awards unpaid benefits, interest does not apply. In short, the court stated that an employee is entitled to interest under § 50 if an adjudicatory body has awarded unpaid benefits.

The court stated here that employees are not entitled to interest simply because they have filed a notice of claim.  Filing a notice of claim is an act that “merely supplies the date” from which any interest would be calculated, if an award of unpaid benefits has been made in the employee’s favor.  Until there has been a claim adjudicated to resolution, an employee is not entitled to interest.

Finally, the court noted that the Board’s interpretation and application of § 50 remained consistent with other decisions.  Additionally, the Board stated that the Workers’ Compensation Act must be broadly construed. Here, the employee made his claim in April 1996, and if that claim had resulted in a favorable award, he would have received interest from the date of that filing. But that claim was denied and terminated.

The Court stated that § 50 does not support the notion that interest accrues from the filing date of an earlier, unresolved workers’ compensation claim.  Instead, a statute’s words must be given their plain and ordinary meaning.

The Court affirmed the decision of the Board.

At Pulgini & Norton, a dedicated Boston workers’ compensation lawyer can advocate for your right to compensation following an industrial injury.  Our office provides a complimentary, confidential consultation with a skilled workers’ compensation lawyer. Contact us today to learn more about your legal rights by calling (781) 843-2200 or filling out our online form.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Holds Injured Parties Can Recover Pain and Suffering Without Concern Damages Will be Repaid to Workers’ Compensation Insurer, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, November 3, 2016

Massachusetts Reviewing Board Holds Self-Insurer Must Pay Improperly Withheld Sums to Employee After Reaching Negotiated Amount for Benefits in Agreement, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, September 29, 2016

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