Supreme Judicial Court Rules Against Commonwealth in Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Case

In an opinion published earlier this month, Flaherty v. Sheriff of Suffolk County, Mass. Sup. Jud. Ct. (2014), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had before it the issue of how assault pay for injured officers interacts with workers’ compensation benefits under Massachusetts Law.

The employee in the case, Flaherty, was working as a Suffolk County correction officer, when he was injured as a result of prisoner violence. The Department of Industrial Accidents found that he was partially disabled, and as a result awarded him workers’ compensation benefits, culminating in a lump sum settlement at the end of a several year period, which was agreed to. Flaherty then filed a claim in Superior Court at the end of the period, claiming that the Commonwealth was required to compensate him with assault pay during the period he had been receiving the workers’ compensation benefits.

The Commonwealth took the position that Flaherty was only entitled to assault pay until he reached the age of 65, and that the three year statute of limitations barred him from recovering assault pay for the period which he was entitled to it. The superior court judge rejected the Commonwealth’s arguments, and ruled that Flaherty was entitled to assault pay so long as he was receiving workers’ compensation, and that his claim was not barred by the statute of limitations. The Commonwealth appealed.

The Supreme Judicial court began by citing to the relevant Massachusetts statute, which provides that if an officer is injured by prisoners during the course of his duty, that he is entitled to assault pay equal to the difference between the workers’ compensation benefits, and what the regular paycheck amount would be.

The Commonwealth wanted to read into the statute that the pay only need continue until the employee reached the age of retirement, since they argued that he thus was no longer to be considered an employee. The court, however, disagreed with this interpretation. It stated that the relevant eligibility period for assault pay was as long as the workers’ compensation benefits continued as well.

The court found that the officer was entitled to the full assault pay, in addition to his workers’ compensation benefits, as well as retirement benefits during the relevant period of time. It based its finding on the clear intent of the legislature to ensure that injured officers did not suffer financially when injured by prisoners in the course of their on the job duties.

Regarding the Commonwealth’s argument as to the relevant statute of limitations period, the court found that the proper statute of limitations was not the six year period attached to employment contract disputes, but rather the three year period for lawsuits against the Commonwealth. Further, each week that the pay was inadequate is considered a separate incident for determining the statute of limitations, and therefore the relevant time period that is not barred by the statute, is the time exactly three years prior to the filing of the employee’s lawsuit.

Therefore, the employee was entitled to assault pay for the three years prior to the filing, and the case was remanded for a judgment consistent with the opinion.

If you become injured at work, you’ll want to make sure that you’re represented by a workers’ compensation lawyer. The experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyers at Pulgini & Norton offer comprehensive guidance and representation in these matters. We will assist you throughout the entire workers’ compensation claim process. Call our office today at (781) 843-2200, or you can contact us online in order to schedule an initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:
Dual Reports Indicate Workers’ Compensation Benefits Inadequate in Massachusetts, Nationwide, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published March 13, 2015

Massachusetts Appeals Court Denies Employee’s Psychiatric Workers’ Compensation Claim, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published March 11, 2015

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