Massachusetts Employee Not Allowed Retroactive Application of Spaniol’s Case

The Massachusetts Reviewing Board of Industrial Accidents recently reviewed an administrative judge’s decision in a workers’ compensation appeal. In Roberto Fernandez v. State Street Development, the employee suffered a compensable injury and claimed loss of function and disfigurement benefits pursuant to § 36(h) and § 36(k) of the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act. The employee was awarded § 36 benefits of approximately $8,000 plus interest, as well as attorney’s fees, in a conference order in January 2012. The order also provided that the employer’s insurer could withhold the employee’s share of the attorney’s fees in accordance with § 13A(10) and relevant regulations. The employee did not appeal the order. The insurer subsequently reduced the employee’s award by the amount of the attorney’s fees.

In July 2013, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion known as In re Spaniol’s Case. The Supreme Judicial Court held that an award of compensation under § 36 for specific injuries is not subject to an offset for an attorney’s fee pursuant to § 13A(10). The court further found that the definitions of “cash award” and “amount payable” to the employee within the first month from the date of the voluntary order were inconsistent with the legislative intent. The decision of the Supreme Judicial Court in this case therefore voided these definitions.

The employee then filed a new claim, seeking § 8(1) penalties and § 13A attorney’s fees in light of the Supreme Judicial Court decision in Spaniol’s Case. Pursuant to § 8(1), an insurer that fails to pay an employee under the terms of an order is subject to a penalty of up to $10,000. But the employee’s claim was denied on the basis that the employee failed to appeal the 2012 conference order, which allowed the insurer to offset the § 36 benefits award by the amount of the attorney’s fees.

On appeal, the Industrial Reviewing Board agreed with the decision of the administrative judge. The Reviewing Board reasoned that since the 2012 conference order specifically authorized the insurer to withhold the attorney’s fees from the benefits award, and since the employee failed to appeal that order, the employee accepted the decision. As a result, the employee’s § 36 claim was resolved long before the law was changed in Spaniol’s Case. The Reviewing Board concluded by explaining that there can be no retroactive application of a change in the law when a case has been closed by a final judgment or appeal, or when it has not been appealed within the time provided.

If you have been hurt in an on-the-job accident or suffered a work-related injury, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical expenses and lost wages under the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act. At Pulgini & Norton, our injury attorneys provide comprehensive and trusted legal guidance to individuals pursuing workers’ compensation benefits in Massachusetts. To discuss your claim with one of our skilled attorneys, contact our office at (781) 843-2200 or online and schedule a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Appeals Court Finds for Worker Claiming Partial Incapacity Benefits, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published August 12, 2015

Massachusetts Court of Appeals Adopts Administrative Judge’s Findings Regarding Employee Credibility, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published October 27, 2015

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