Massachusetts Reviewing Board Finds in Favor of Employee Suffering Disability due to Repetitive, Strenuous Work

Recently, the Massachusetts Reviewing Board of Industrial Accidents analyzed whether an employee had met her burden of proving that her falls suffered at work were compensable under the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act. In this case, the Board found that even without considering the falls, the medical evidence supported a finding that it was the repetitive and strenuous work that caused the employee’s disability.  The Board affirmed the decision to award the employee § 34 temporary total incapacity benefits, ongoing § 35 partial incapacity benefits, and §§ 13 and 30 benefits.

At age 61, the employee had been educated through the fourth grade in the Azores. She worked first as a housekeeper for the employer, and later as a certified nursing assistant.  She described this job as physical, requiring her to bathe, dress, feed, and move patients.  In the course of performing these duties, she testified that she felt pain in her knees, particularly her right knee.  She also stated that while bringing a tray to a patient in 2011, she fell and landed on her right knee.  Initially, she stated she “fell in the bed,” but then upon further questioning, she testified she fell directly to the floor, without hitting anything.  She also testified that before this fall, she had fallen a few times.

On March 30, 2012, the employee stopped working, and a few days later she underwent a total right knee replacement.  She applied for short-term disability benefits, and eight months later, she filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.  The judge ordered the insurer to pay her ongoing § 34 benefits from March 31, 2012, but did not order payment for past medical treatment.

The employee underwent an impartial examination pursuant to § 11A, and the doctor stated that multiple falls, as well as the employee’s work history and the physical requirements of her job, had exacerbated pre-existing conditions in her knee, eventually necessitating a total right knee replacement.  The judge and doctor agreed that repetitive work performed for the employer was a major cause of her disability.

The employee’s treating surgeon diagnosed the employee with advanced joint disease and stated it was the direct result of rigors from her workplace.  He concluded that her March 30, 2012 injury was a major cause of her disability.  The judge found that the employee met her burden of proving a major cause of her disability and need for total knee replacement was her “repetitive work.”

The judge found that the employee had provided timely notice and had sustained an injury to her knee suffered in the course of her employment.  Since the judge found the employee was totally disabled until the date of the impartial examination, May 15, 2013, and afterwards partially disabled, she awarded benefits in accordance with those findings.

The Board first addressed the insurer’s argument that the employee did not meet her burden of proving the falls she had suffered at work arose out of her employment.  The insurer claimed that the falls were not compensable as a matter of law because the 2011 fall was “idiopathic,” since she had fallen to the floor without hitting anything. Additionally, the insurer argued that the employee did not establish the cause and time of the other falls, and therefore she did not prove they arose “out of” her employment, as required by law.  In conclusion, the insurer concluded that the judge should not have relied on the doctor’s causal relationship opinion, since the history of these falls was the foundation of this opinion.

In response to the insurer’s contentions, the Board stated that even without considering the falls, the medical evidence supported a finding that it was the employee’s repetitive work that caused her disability and need for a total right knee replacement.  The judge had repeatedly found that the doctor’s opinion regarding the vigorous and repetitive use of the employee’s right knee exacerbated her previous condition and led to the need for the knee replacement.  The doctor had not stated that the alleged falls were part of his causation opinion.

The Board stated it was harmless error that the judge considered the employee’s alleged falls to have caused her right knee injury, without making findings on whether those falls were compensable.  Since the evidence supported the conclusion that the employee’s repetitive work was one cause of her need for a total knee replacement, that was enough to support the judge’s award.

Regarding the allegation that the employee filed her claim late, the Board stated that since the employee had filed her claim eight months after leaving work, she met the four-year limitations period.  The rule is that the statute of limitations runs from the date the employee becomes aware of the relationship between his or her disability and employment.  The medical evidence in this case showed that treatment to her knee was received on December 1, 2011.  The Board stated there was no evidence of “disability” before that date. She left work on March 30, 2012, and according to the Board, if either date is considered the date of injury, the employee’s claim was filed within the four-year limitations period.

The Board affirmed the decision awarding benefits to the employee.

If you have suffered injuries while working on a job site, you may be entitled to receive compensation for your injuries and lost wages. The Massachusetts attorneys at Pulgini & Norton offer experienced legal representation for injured clients pursuing workers’ compensation benefits. To discuss your claim with one of our hardworking attorneys, contact our office at (781) 843-2200 or online and schedule a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Appeals Court Reviews Worker’s Compensation Claim for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, May 19, 2016

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

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