Reviewing Board Finds Massachusetts Employee Entitled to Benefits for Physical and Psychiatric Disabilities

Recently, the Reviewing Board for the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents affirmed an award of benefits to an employee for her physical and psychiatric disabilities.  The Board made clear that this was a Massachusetts workers’ compensation case involving both orthopedic and psychiatric sequela, and therefore there was a causal connection between the employee’s injury and her depression.  The Board also reviewed legal rules that require that medical testimony be considered as a whole when determining the opinion being given.

The employee in this case slipped and fell at work, suffering multiple fractures in her foot.  The self-insurer paid workers’ compensation benefits related to this foot injury and to the psychiatric consequences of the injury.  After undergoing multiple surgeries to her left foot, the employee had testified that she still suffered pain and had difficulty with stairs.  According to the employee, she feels sad and cries often, due to her physical limitations and pain.

The judge had awarded the employee benefits based on his finding that she was permanently and totally disabled, both due to her orthopedic condition and due to her major depression caused by the work-related accident.  The self-insurer appealed.

On appeal, the Board rejected the self-insurer’s argument that the judge had impermissibly expanded the medical issues at the hearing to include psychiatric disabilities. In fact, the Board noted that at the hearing, the parties had stipulated that this case was for orthopedic and psychiatric sequela.  The Board also noted that the self-insurer had been given the opportunity to obtain and submit a psychiatric independent medical examiner (IME) report.

Next, the Board rejected the self-insurer’s argument that the judge had failed to provide them with the opportunity to cross-examine the employee regarding her level of disability.  The judge had noted that the case would move forward on a § 34A basis, since her § 34 benefits only had a few more months until exhaustion.

The Board also refuted the self-insurer’s allegation that the judge had erred in finding the employee was permanently and totally disabled.  In fact, the Board stated that the self-insurer focused on a small segment of a medical opinion that had stated that the employee appeared able to work in a sedentary position.  In fact, the Board stated the self-insurer disregarded the majority of the doctor’s testimony that made clear that despite having surgery, the employee was totally and permanently disabled.

The rule, according to Massachusetts law, is that medical testimony must be construed as a whole when determining which opinion is given.  In this case, the doctor had made clear that the employee had improved after her surgeries, but she was “far from normal.”  In response to direct questioning from the self-insurer regarding whether the employee should be working, the doctor had stated that she should not be working and that she was permanently and totally disabled, due to her work-related conditions.  The Board also stated that the record supported the doctor’s opinion.

The Board affirmed the decision in favor of the employee.

At Pulgini & Norton, a skilled Boston workers’ compensation attorney is prepared to provide legal representation and strong advocacy on behalf of your right to compensation. If you or someone close to you has suffered a work-related injury, we can help. To schedule a free, confidential consultation with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer, call our office at (781) 843-2200 or use our online form.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Reviewing Board Holds Employee’s Psychological Disability was not Causally Related to Earlier Work Events, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, March 16, 2017

Massachusetts Reviewing Board Finds Harmful Error in Inconsistent Findings Regarding the Cause of Employee’s Psychological Harm, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, December 15, 2016

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