Massachusetts Employee Fails to Establish Asthma Caused by Industrial Accident

In a recent case, the Massachusetts Reviewing Board of Industrial Accidents reviewed an appeal by an employer of a decision awarding workers’ compensation benefits to its employee. In Peter Bennett v. Northeastern University, the employee had worked as an HVAC foreman and technician from 2004 through 2008. The employee claimed that he sustained a pulmonary injury arising out of and in the course of his employment with the university. The employee was awarded § 34 temporary total incapacity benefits from 2008 until 2011, followed by § 34A permanent and total incapacity benefits, and medical benefits. The parties appealed.

The employee was examined by an independent medical examiner pursuant to § 11A(2), and since the medical issues were complex, the parties were allowed to submit additional medical evidence at the hearing. The administrative judge found that after working in proximity to an area where stripping chemicals were used, the employee’s ability to physically breathe was affected, requiring medical treatment, and the employee was no longer able to work. On appeal, the employer argued that since the judge’s findings failed to identify a date of exposure or onset of symptoms, they were insufficient to establish a date of injury.

The Reviewing Board agreed that the administrative judge did not adequately address the conflicts in the medical evidence because he made no specific findings about the date of the alleged exposure and the events immediately following the exposure. The Reviewing Board went on to state that although the ordinary remedy would be to remand the case for additional findings, there were no facts that would be sufficient to support the employee’s claim that he was injured by the stripping agents used by other workers. The Reviewing Board pointed to the fact that no evidence was introduced at the hearing regarding the type of chemical strippers, the nature and duration of the employee’s exposure, or the employee’s proximity to the alleged chemicals. As a result, the Board found that the medical opinion lacked a foundation to support the conclusion that the employee was injured by asthma-aggravating chemicals in 2008.

The Reviewing Board acknowledged that under certain facts, an administrative judge may reasonably infer that work exposures worsened the employee’s asthma symptoms, creating a compensable injury under the workers’ compensation act. However, the Board found that the facts of the case were insufficient to support that inference, since the medical examiner testified that there are many various factors that caused the employee’s asthma, and he could not causally relate the employee’s breathing difficulties prior to the chemical exposure to the employee’s work. Accordingly, the Reviewing Board reversed the decision and vacated the award of benefits to the employee.

Although some Massachusetts workers’ compensation claims may be difficult to prove, an experienced attorney may be beneficial in helping you seek the best possible outcome. At Pulgini & Norton, our injury attorneys provide aggressive and dedicated legal representation to individuals seeking workers’ compensation benefits in Massachusetts. To discuss your benefits case with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, contact our office at (781) 843-2200 or online and schedule a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Reviewing Board Affirms Award of Workers’ Compensation Benefits, Including Handicapped Housing, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published November 2, 2015

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

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