Massachusetts Reviewing Board Finds Harmful Error in Inconsistent Findings Regarding the Cause of Employee’s Psychological Harm

In an appeal involving issues of causation, the Massachusetts Reviewing Board of Industrial Accidents stated that the judge had committed harmful error by mischaracterizing the evidence, leading to inconsistent findings.  The psychological injuries suffered by the employee in this case had allegedly resulted from physical harm due to a work incident. The Board stated that it was not clear that the employee’s injuries and symptoms were caused by the industrial accident.

Procedurally, the judge adopted some of the medical opinions but not the most recent opinions regarding causation. The employee had undergone two surgeries and continued treatment for anxiety and depression.  While there had not been a dispute about whether the employee suffered an injury, the specific symptoms and injuries caused by that incident were at issue.  The Board found it had been an error for the judge to make inconsistent findings that factored into his determination that the work incident caused the employee’s injuries.

The employee in this case, who was 48 years old, worked as vice president of marketing for her employer. This task required strong analytical and communication skills, as well as attention to detail.  The employee suffered injuries when a magnet, weighing 8-12 ounces, fell from a door and hit her on the forehead.

The employee suffered a concussion and later experienced neck and back pain. While she eventually returned to work full-time, she failed to feel entirely functional due to her anxiety, headaches, and physical pain (neck and back).

Consulting with numerous physicians and neurologists, the employee eventually underwent two surgeries to alleviate her pain.  She was deemed totally disabled and claimed section 35 benefits and section 34 benefits.  A judge ordered her insurer to pay the benefits, and both parties appealed.

At a hearing, the judge adopted portions of medical opinions but not the opinion of the impartial physician.  The Board stated that the judge had adopted the opinion of a neurologist who examined the employee and found that while the employee’s surgeries were reasonable, the head trauma did not cause a nerve injury.  The judge also adopted a psychiatrist’s conclusion that the employee’s pain was due to her anxiety and depression, resulting from the work incident.

After the judge had ordered the insurer to pay section 34 benefits, the insurer appealed, arguing that the judge had not made adequate findings on the physical aspect of the employee’s injury, regarding her disability and the causal relationship.  Additionally, the insurer argued the judge mischaracterized the medical evidence concerning the employee’s surgery and headaches.

The Board agreed that the judge had made inconsistent findings concerning the causal relationship of the injuries and the need for the two surgeries.  Despite the fact that the judge adopted a medical opinion stating that the head injury did not cause the nerve injury, the judge concluded that the treatment had been causally related to the work injury.

The Board stated that the judge had failed to adopt the most recent medical opinion regarding the causal relationship of the employee’s headaches to her work injury.  The employee argued that this was a harmless error, but the Board stated that it was not harmless because the case involved the psychological effects of a physical injury.

According to the Board, it must be shown that the physical injury caused pain.  In this case, the judge had not made proper findings regarding the employee’s physical injuries. Without this adequate foundation, the judge should not have concluded that the employee’s psychological harm resulted from the work incident.

The error had not been harmless, since the judge had factored the causal relationship of the employee’s physical harm into his determination that the employee was owed benefits.

At Pulgini & Norton, an experienced Boston workers’ compensation attorney is ready to provide legal guidance and strong advocacy on behalf of your right to compensation. If you or a loved one has suffered a work-related injury, we can help.  Contact our office for a free, confidential consultation with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer. We can be reached by calling (781) 843-2200 or using our online form.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Reviewing Board Awards § 34 Benefits Based on Medical Record Showing that Disability Extended Beyond Exhaustion of § 35 Benefits, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, October 27, 2016

Massachusetts Reviewing Board Modifies Partial Disability Award After Judge Based Employee’s Earning Capacity Above Hourly Minimum Wage Without Supporting Evidence, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, October 12, 2016

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