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Massachusetts Appeals Court Decision Protects Injured Worker’s Settlement from Insurer

Workers’ compensation injuries often involve individuals who work for companies that perform contract tasks for other entities. Workers’ compensation is designed to provide financial relief to an injured employee, while removing the possibility of extensive litigation for the employer. In other words, if an injured worker obtains Massachusetts workers’ compensation benefits, she or he is generally precluded from pursuing negligence damages in a civil suit with the employer that carries the insurance. However, if another party is either partially or fully responsible for the injuries, such as a contractor, the employee can pursue civil action against the third party in addition to the workers’ compensation benefits received.

924972_17182117.jpgMassachusetts General Laws, Ch. 152, Section 15, allows an injured employee to receive workers’ compensation from his or her employer, but it also provides the employer’s insurer the opportunity to place a lien over any third-party settlement for its payment to the employee. This statute allows the insurer to recover costs already paid to the employee and includes the ability to offset future compensation benefits. The injured employee receives the remaining amounts in addition to amounts he or she paid toward costs from the third-party settlement.

A recent Massachusetts Appeals Court case provides an example of how far insurance companies will go to recoup the costs paid to an injured employee. In DiCarlo vs. Suffolk Construction Company, an injured worker received workers’ compensation benefits and then sued the owner of the building and received a settlement from the third-party tortfeasor. Part of this settlement was allocated as non-economic damages to the injured employee for pain and suffering and lack of consortium for his spouse. The employer’s workers’ compensation insurer attempted to file a lien under G. L. c. 152, § 15, with the insurer insisting that the lien applied to the non-economic damages. The Appeals Court disagreed and ultimately allowed the injured worker and his spouse to keep the portion of the settlement allocated as non-economic damages.

The worker suffered serious personal injuries while working as an electrician on a construction site. During the two and a half years he was out of work, he collected workers’ compensation benefits and lost wages, totaling over $280,000. The injured electrician filed suit against the general contractor and owner and received a settlement for $100,000. Thirty-five percent of that amount was allocated as pain and suffering, a type of non-economic damages, and another 35 percent was allocated as loss of consortium for his wife. The trial court judge determined that the 35% allocated for pain and suffering was subject to the lien, but the settlement was denied. The insurer appealed, seeking to keep the settlement allotment in its favor.

The Appeals Court relied on prior case law that specifically determined that pain and suffering and loss of consortium were not compensable under G. L. c. 152, § 15. The insurer attempted to distinguish that case from the injured electrician’s circumstances by the fact that the injured worker in Curry died as a result of his injuries. The Appeals Court declined to make a distinction and ordered that the settlement be approved consistent with the opinion.

The experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation and personal injury attorneys at Karsner & Meehan have the experience you need to maximize workers’ compensation and civil benefits available for your injury. For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office today at 508.622.6600.

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Massachusetts Superior Court Finds Deceased Patient’s Estate Provided Enough Proof of Medical Malpractice, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, October 28, 2014
What Happens In a Massachusetts Car Accident Case that Involves an Out-of-State Policy? Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, October 21, 2014