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Massachusetts Reviewing Board Reverses Decision Finding Injured Nursing Assistant Capable of Performing Light Duty Work

Understanding your rights after suffering an accident on the job can be overwhelming and confusing. This is especially true if you suffered serious injuries that may jeopardize your ability to return to work for a substantial period of time, or that leave you paralyzed. As Boston workers’ compensation lawyers, we have assisted numerous individuals with ensuring that they receive the maximum amount of compensation that they are entitled to obtain after being hurt on the job. One of the most critical aspects of a claim involves undergoing an independent medical examination. During this examination, the doctors will assess whether or not you are able to return to work. Being deemed capable of returning to work, even in a light duty capacity, can have serious consequences for your ability to receive benefits.

In a recent appellate opinion, the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents considered a case involving a 63-year-old personal care assistant who was injured when she was helping a bedridden client. The woman described the pain that she suffered as a knife-like pain in her lower back that radiated to her left leg and foot. The woman ceased working and filed a workers’ compensation claim. She was awarded temporary incapacity benefits by her employer’s insurance company.

During an impartial exam, the reviewing physician diagnosed the woman with a chronic lumbar strain that also caused left leg radiculopathy and a degenerative spine condition. Both the employee and the insurance company agreed that the woman was no longer able to perform her job duties as a personal care assistant. The woman then underwent a series of medical treatments that eventually allowed her to be cleared for light duty work. The doctor later changed this finding to reflect that the woman was unable to work.

At a hearing regarding the woman’s medical condition and benefit payments, the presiding judge adopted the medical opinion indicating that she was capable of accepting light duty work. He awarded a variety of benefits and assessed a $400 per week earning capacity. The woman appealed, claiming that the presiding judge erred by rejecting the doctor’s subsequent determination that the employee was unable to work. The reviewing court agreed with the woman, stating that a judge must review a medical opinion as a whole. The court pointed to other medical reports in the record stating that more medical treatment and review were necessary to determine the woman’s ability to perform any work-related tasks.

As a result, the reviewing panel also concluded that the assessment of a $400 per week earning capacity must be reevaluated. Whether or not the employee was able to perform light duty work would be directly relevant to determining her weekly earning capacity. Ultimately, the reviewing panel remanded the action for additional proceedings and voided the presiding judge’s original findings.

If you were injured on the job, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. At Pulgini & Norton, we proudly provide legal counsel and guidance to individuals and their families throughout Massachusetts. Our compassionate team can guide you through each step of the workers’ compensation claims process while ensuring that you understand your legal rights and options. We provide a free consultation to help you learn more about how we can assist you. Call us at 781-843-2200 or contact us online.

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