Right to Workers’ Compensation Coverage Can’t be Taken Away by Employer

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts recently affirmed that the Department of Industrial Accidents has jurisdiction over a claim by a person injured at work, even if the employer had required the employee to sign a contract giving up all rights under the workers’ compensation laws.

The defendant, Eastern Connection Operating, Inc., hires drivers to pick up and deliver packages throughout the Northeast.  In 2007, the plaintiff signed a contract with Eastern entitled ‘Agreement with Independent Contractor-2007,’ where the plaintiff was hired to deliver packages for Eastern.

In the contract was a provision that Eastern would not obtain workers’ compensation insurance and that the plaintiff  gave up any rights under the workers’ compensation laws in any jurisdiction where Eastern operated, including Massachusetts, but that the plaintiff maintained his rights under common law.

Even though the contract specified that the plaintiff was an independent contractor, and the employer would not obtain workers’ compensation insurance, both parties agreed that he was in fact an employee and that Eastern also had a workers’ compensation insurance policy that covered him at all relevant times.

The plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident while making a delivery for Eastern, but the company did not submit a claim on his behalf until after he filed a lawsuit.  Eastern’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier denied the plaintiff’s claim. The plaintiff then brought an action in state court seeking damages for the injuries he suffered. The trial court had granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment that it had no jurisdiction because sole jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claim under General Law chapter 152, section 24 lay with the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA).

The plaintiff asked the Appeals Court to rule that he had been wrongfully denied workers’ compensation benefits, since the employer had misclassified him as an independent contractor,  and therefore he could assert rights under common law. The plaintiff asked the court after it assumed jurisdiction over his lawsuit to then find that Eastern was liable for his injuries under Massachusetts law.

The plaintiff also asked the Appeals Court to take jurisdiction because in his contract with Eastern he had agreed to give up his rights under the workers’ compensation law, and therefore his case rested on common law. The court ruled that a contract giving up a worker’s rights under workers’ compensation laws is not valid under Massachusetts law. In addition, the court noted that no independent contractor agreement can give up any rights that someone such as the plaintiff may have as an employee.

The Appeals Court found that jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s injury was exclusively with the DIA, and the court had no jurisdiction over his claim for a work-related injury, even though Eastern’s contract with the plaintiff stated that it would not obtain workers’ compensation insurance for him.

The court declined to accept jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claim. In effect, this decision sent the plaintiff back to the jurisdiction of the DIA, which would be the proper forum for any action to overturn the workers’ compensation insurance carrier’s denial of the plaintiff’s claim.

For more information about the workers’ compensation process, contact a Boston workers’ compensation attorney from Pulgini & Norton to schedule a free consultation to find out more about what our lawyers can accomplish for you. Contact us with a brief description of your situation or reach us by phone at our Downtown Boston, Hyde Park, or Braintree, Massachusetts office locations.

More Posts:

Pain Management and Workers’ Compensation, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, April 23, 2014

The Top Five Most Expensive Workers’ Compensation Claims, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, March 26, 2014

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