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Articles Posted in Legal Strategies

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Under Massachusetts law, hearsay is not admissible testimony at a trial. There are exceptions to this rule, however, which allow certain testimony that is considered hearsay to be admitted. The Appeals Court of Massachusetts recently held in Hasouris v. Sorour, a medical malpractice action, that a witness’s deposition testimony can be used at a trial under the prior recorded testimony to the rule against hearsay, due to the witness’s refusal to testify. If you or a loved one suffered injuries due to medical malpractice, you should retain a personal injury attorney seasoned in handling Massachusetts medical malpractice cases to pursue your claim, to ensure all relevant testimony and evidence that will support your case is obtained and preserved.

In Hasouris, Plaintiff sued Defendants for medical malpractice and wrongful death, alleging negligent medical care provided by physicians during Plaintiff’s wife’s knee replacement surgery, which resulted in pain and suffering and Plaintiff’s wife’s ultimate death. A Doctor involved in Plaintiff’s wife’s care was deposed. The Doctor was then indicted for Medicare fraud. Doctor filed a motion to stay and bifurcate the trial and set forth his intent not to testify at the trial by invoking his privilege against self-incrimination. His motion was denied. A Second Doctor filed a notice of his intent to use Doctor’s deposition testimony at trial, due to Doctor’s unavailability, arguing that it fell under the prior recorded testimony exception to the rule prohibiting hearsay. Doctor settled prior to trial, and stated he would not appear at the trial. The judge advised the parties if Doctor did not appear at trial he would admit Doctor’s deposition testimony. Plaintiff made objections to certain portions of the deposition transcript, which were sustained in part. A jury found in favor of Second Doctor, and Plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial. The judge denied Plaintiff’s motion and Plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, Plaintiff argued the judge erred in admitting Doctor’s deposition testimony. The court noted the trial court judge relied on the exception to the rule against hearsay that permitted prior recorded testimony of a witness that is unavailable to be admitted into evidence. The court noted that the issue in the subject case was whether the witness was truly unavailable due to his refusal to testify by invoking his right against self-incrimination. The court noted a witness asserting the right against self-incrimination cannot be forced to testify unless it can be proven the testimony will not be incriminating. In analyzing whether the testimony sought will be incriminating, the court must consider what information will be sought and whether the answers may incriminate the witness. This inquiry was not done in the subject case but the court found the invocation of the right to be valid regardless. Further, the court noted that the deposition testimony was admissible under the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, because Doctor’s attendance could not be procured for the trial, due to his refusal to comply with a subpoena to attend. As such, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

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While many injuries sustained at work are minor, some workplace injuries cause permanent disabilities that leave the injured employee unable to earn a living. Under Massachusetts workers’ compensation law, you must prove that you are unable to earn wages of any kind to show that you are permanently disabled. If you do not present sufficient evidence of your permanent disability, you will be denied compensation. In Rivera’s Case, the Court of Appeals of Massachusetts held that simply showing an employee is unable to return to his prior employment is insufficient to show the employee was unable to earn wages in any position. If you were injured at work, it is important to consult with a seasoned workers’ compensation attorney in your pursuit of workers’ compensation benefits, to ensure your case is properly handled.

Facts of the Case

In Rivera, the employee injured his knees breaking up a fight at work in 1996, and subsequently underwent bilateral knee surgery. He received total incapacity benefits from his employer until he returned to work in 2006. In 2011, the employee then sought additional treatment for his left knee and filed a claim for benefits to enable him to undergo an evaluation. An administrative judge set forth a conference order stating employer was required to pay for the evaluation. The employee then underwent an MRI of his knee and an orthopedic surgeon recommended the surgery. The employer appealed the conference order but at the same time issued a utilization review approval of the suggested surgery. The employee underwent surgery, for which the employer denied coverage. The employee was out of work from March 13, 2012 through June 18, 2012, for which he filed a claim for benefits. The employer then paid for the surgery and medical services, but did not offer total incapacity benefits for the period of time the employee did not work.

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While some workplace injuries resolve in a relatively short time, others continue to cause issues years after the initial injury. Employees are entitled to recover compensation for almost all work related injuries, but when an employee suffers more than one injury, it can become unclear who is responsible for providing workers’ compensation benefits. Pursuant to Massachusetts’s workers’ compensation law, only one insurer is liable for benefits for a disability, even if the employee suffers two or more injuries that contribute to the disability. In Lombardo’s Case, the Court of Appeals of Massachusetts explained that whichever insurer provided insurance at the time of the latest injury that contributed to an employee’s disability is liable for the entire amount of compensation benefits. If you sustained injuries in a work related accident, you should retain an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to assist you in recovering the full amount of benefits to which you are entitled.

Factual Background

Allegedly, the employee in Lombardo suffered a knee injury while in the course of his job duties. His employer’s workers’ compensation insurer accepted his claim and paid him the benefits he was owed. The employee subsequently returned to work without issue for ten years. Reportedly, he was then diagnosed with arthritis and eventually underwent a total knee replacement. He retired prior to his knee replacement and filed a claim with the Department of Industrial Accidents for additional disability benefits.

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People are often asked to sign waivers before engaging in activities that may be perceived as dangerous. Under Massachusetts personal injury law, signing such a waiver generally precludes the person who signed the waiver from pursuing a negligence claim against the released party. In Cahalane v. Skydive Cape Cod, however, the Appeals Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts held that it would not prevent the injured party from recovering for any gross negligence in contravention of the terms of the agreement.

In Cahalane, Plaintiff engaged Defendant’s services to go on a tandem skydive jump. Prior to embarking on her jump, Plaintiff signed a waiver in which she released any claims against Defendant for negligence or gross negligence. Plaintiff was permitted to purchase a release from the waiver, but chose not to do so. During the jump, Plaintiff was attached to an instructor. As they approached the ground the instructor performed a hook turn. Hook turns are disapproved of in skydiving safety bulletins, as they are a leading cause of death and injury in skydiving. Due to the manner in which the pair landed, both of Plaintiff’s femurs were fractured on impact. Plaintiff sued Defendant, alleging negligence and gross negligence. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that the waiver barred Plaintiff’s claims. The trial court granted Defendant’s Motion and Plaintiff appealed, arguing the waiver was induced by fraud and was unenforceable. On appeal, the court held that the waiver was enforceable and precluded Plaintiff’s negligence claim but ruled that it did not bar Plaintiff’s gross negligence claim.

The court noted that Plaintiff was given ample opportunity to review the waiver and did not produce evidence that anyone made any false representations to her regarding the waiver. As such, the court held it was enforceable. The court noted, however, that while Massachusetts law favors the enforcement of releases for liability for negligent acts, a party cannot immunize itself from liability for grossly negligent or reckless acts. The court explained that gross negligence is more than a failure to exercise ordinary care and was better explained as great negligence, or conduct without any diligence or care. The court noted each case must be analyzed on its facts to determine if the defendant’s actions were grossly negligent, but additionally noted that a moment of inattentiveness in a dangerous situation could constitute gross negligence. As such, the court held that the question of whether Defendant was grossly negligent and therefore liable to Plaintiff could not be decided via summary judgment but must be submitted to a jury.

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Collateral estoppel is a long-standing rule of law that people can only get “one bite of the apple.” In other words, people are not entitled to re-litigate the same facts or claims until they reach a verdict of their liking. There are certain requirements that must be met to preclude litigation due to collateral estoppel, however, and simply because facts were previously decided in another forum does not automatically prevent a court from allowing the same facts to be litigated. In workers’ compensation cases it is important to know whether you or your employer’s insurer are held to facts determined in a prior proceeding. In Yahoub’s case, the Appeals Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts held that an employer was not barred from litigating facts in a Massachusetts workers’ compensation claim that were previously found by the Department of Industrial Accidents.

In Yahoub, claimant was working as a custodian for the town of Milton when he sustained injuries in an altercation with his supervisor. After an investigation, claimant was determined to be the aggressor of the incident and was terminated. He then filed a claim for unemployment benefits with the Division of Unemployment Assistance who awarded him benefits after finding the town had not proven claimant engaged in deliberate misconduct that constituted a willful disregard of the town’s interest. The town appealed to the District Court, but the District Court affirmed the decision of the Division of Unemployment Assistance.

Claimant then filed a claim with the Department of Industrial Accidents seeking workers’ compensation benefits for severe emotional distress, which he alleged was caused by the altercation. A hearing was conducted in which testimony was presented from claimant, his supervisor, and a witness. During the hearing, the town’s workers’ compensation insurer argued claimant was not entitled to recover benefits due to the fact that his actions amounted to willful and serious misconduct and his termination was a bona fide personnel action.  Following the first day of the hearing, claimant moved to prohibit the insurer from re-litigating the facts found by the Division of Unemployment Assistance, under a theory of collateral estoppel. The administrative judge denied claimant’s motion due to lack of privity between the parties in each proceeding. At the conclusion of the hearing, the administrative judge agreed with the insurer and found claimant had initiated the altercation, and denied claimant’s claim. Claimant subsequently appealed to the reviewing board. The reviewing board affirmed the administrative judge’s ruling. Claimant subsequently filed an appeal with the Appeals Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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If you are injured while performing the duties of your job, you are most likely entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Under Massachusetts workers’ compensation law, you are only entitled to benefits that are reasonable and related to your injury. There are guidelines set forth as to what treatment is considered reasonable, and any deviation from the guidelines is presumed to be both unreasonable and inappropriate. In Thibeault’s Case, however, the Court of Appeals of Massachusetts held the presumption of unreasonableness can be overcome if the facts of the case indicate other treatment is acceptable.In Thibeault, the employee was a heavy equipment operator, who injured his lower back moving a steel plate while working for his employer. He was diagnosed with discogenic back pain and a tear and disc bulge in the lumbar region. The employee underwent treatment for his back injury but declined to undergo surgery. He filed a workers’ compensation claim and received a lump sum settlement. The employee continued to get treatment from his primary care physician for his back injuries after he received the settlement. Part of the employee’s treatment included prescriptions for narcotic pain medication.

Subsequently, eight years after the employee received his lump sum settlement, he filed a post lump sum claim for medical benefits, which was denied. He then underwent an independent medical examination, after which the examining doctor issued a report and was deposed. The doctor stated, in part, that the employee suffered from chronic low back pain, which the employee was treating with medication. The doctor further stated that, although there did not seem to be any steps taken to reduce the dosage or wean the employee off the medication, continuing to treat with medication was reasonable, and the treatment was causally related to the employee’s workplace injury.

A hearing was held on the employee’s claim for post lump sum benefits, after which the administrative judge ruled in favor of the employee. The judge noted that while treating with medication was not the preferred protocol under the treatment guidelines, the doctor who performed the employee’s medical exam found the treatment to be reasonable and related to the original injury. The insurer appealed to the Department of Industrial Accidents reviewing board, which affirmed the administrative judge’s ruling. The insurer then appealed to the Appeals Court of Massachusetts.

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Many people avoid thinking about what will happen to their property and assets after their death, and ultimately die without a will to determine how their estate will be disbursed. Family members of an individual who dies intestate may not see the necessity in determining how the estate should be divided and may delay in taking any action to raise an estate and appoint a personal representative. The failure to take prompt action when a person passes away can have a damaging effect on your ability to control the estate’s assets, however. A recent Massachusetts estate planning decision held that you waive certain rights if you do not act in a timely manner.

In Bennett v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the Superior Court of Massachusetts defined what rights a limited personal representative has with regards to a decedent’s estate.  Specifically, the court addressed whether a personal representative who is granted limited authority under the Uniform Probate Code (UPC) has standing to pursue tort actions that are an asset of the decedent’s estate. In Bennet, the Plaintiff’s father died on March 7, 2014. Section 3-108 of the UPC provides that no testacy or appointment proceeding may take place more than three years after a decedent’s death. If no personal representative has been appointed within three years of a decedent’s death, section 3-108(4) of the UPC allows for a personal representative to be named, but only for the limited purpose of determining successors to the estate. Section 3-108(4) specifically states, however, the representative does not have the right to possess any estate assets. Plaintiff was appointed the limited representative of the estate, pursuant to section 3-108(4), on July 26, 2017.

Plaintiff subsequently brought claims of wrongful death and civil conspiracy against the Defendant, as the limited personal representative of the estate of her deceased father.  The Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint, arguing the Plaintiff’s appointment as a personal representative of the estate under section 3-108(4) of the UPC did not grant her the authority to pursue a wrongful death claim or any tort claim that belonged to the decedent and became a part of the decedent’s estate upon his death.

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The Workers’ Compensation Act has a provision that states that any employee who files a claim or accepts payment for a personal injury that occurs in the workplace releases their employer from any and all related claims. The Massachusetts appellate court recently issued a decision examining whether or not this provision barred a negligence lawsuit filed by an injured employee. The employee claimed he was hired as an independent contractor to work as a chef, which entitled him to pursue a tort remedy in civil court. The injured man’s case claimed he slipped and fell on ice while working, which caused him to suffer a broken right ankle. The chef asserted his damages included more than $28,000 in medical bills, lost wages, permanent impairment, and physical and emotional anguish.

The chef initially filed a Massachusetts workers’ compensation claim, which was denied by the employer. The employer justified the refusal of benefits by arguing that they were not liable and that he was an independent contractor. The case was settled by a lump-sum payment and allowed for payment of medical expenses incurred up to the date of the approval of the settlement. The settlement excluded payment for future medical treatment of the injury. After the settlement, the injured person filed a negligence lawsuit against his employer. The employer moved to dismiss the action, arguing the action was barred by the settlement agreement.

The injured worker countered the claim was not barred because the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA) never resolved whether or not he was an independent contractor or employee. The appellate court determined Section 23 of the Act barred his claim, regardless of whether a distinction was made regarding the type of employment. The employee entered into a settlement agreement option allowed by the Workers’ Compensation Act, which resolves a matter without acknowledging fault. The court compared it to a prior Massachusetts case, Kniskern v. Melkonian, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 461, 465-466 (2007), with an injured worker who claimed he was an independent contractor. In that case, the court pointed out a lump-sum settlement under the Act would not have been possible if the injured person were an independent contractor instead of an employee. Anything received under the Act can only be provided to employees, so the injured person’s ability to settle the claim results in an indirect determination he was an employee.

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If an accident occurs, both parties will likely look to insurance policies for coverage of a claim. The at-fault party, in particular, expects his or her insurance company to step in and defend the claim for them, shielding them from full personal liability. This is known as indemnification. The Appeals Court of Massachusetts recently looked at whether or not an insurance company providing a homeowner’s policy was obliged to defend or indemnify the policyholder’s son in a Massachusetts personal injury lawsuit filed by someone who was punched in the face by the son while in the homeowner’s home. The injured person filed suit against the son, alleging the insured’s son struck his face, causing serious and permanent injuries.

The father was insured under a personal umbrella liability policy in addition to his homeowner’s policy. The insurance company, after notice of the incident and lawsuit, moved for a declaratory judgment by the trial court to establish it had no duty to defend or indemnify the son. The trial court granted the motion, and the homeowner appealed. The appellate court reviewed the findings for clear error and for a ruling on the questions of law.

The Appeals Court first assessed the testimony of three witnesses who were present during the altercation. Their testimony resulted in finding the son hit the personal injury plaintiff three times in the face with a closed fist. This knocked him unconscious and led to further injuries after he hit his head on the pavement as he fell. The plaintiff sustained fractures in his face, jaw, and skull, developing a seizure disorder. In its assessment of whether or not this type of incident was something covered under the homeowner’s policy, the trial court determined the incident was not an act of self-defense nor an accident. The court found the son acted intentionally with the purpose of causing the other man injury.

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In all civil lawsuits, parties are obligated to follow the deadlines set by the court. Missing a deadline can have serious consequences, resulting in either the dismissal of your case if you’re the plaintiff or a judgment entered in favor of the plaintiff if you’re the defendant. A recent Massachusetts personal injury action is an example of the consequences injured parties face.

In this case, the injured parties filed suit against a “big box” store’s pharmacy, alleging it had filled a prescription with a dosage 10 times higher than prescribed. The patient alleged that when he took these pills over a four-day period in 2009, he suffered renal failure and other physical issues. The injured patient sought damages for his hospital and medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. His wife also filed suit for loss of consortium and lost wages.

As the proceedings moved forward, the district court set a deadline of July 1, 2015 for the plaintiffs’ expert witness disclosures, or the list of people they intended to call to testify as experts in the relevant field. The injured person missed this deadline, and the defendant pharmacy moved to prevent the plaintiffs from offering any expert testimony. The court provided the couple with an extension, moving the deadline to December 21, 2015. With the extension, the injured parties provided the name of one doctor as a prospective witness but failed to include a report by the doctor to the defendant, as required by the pretrial order. No other prospective experts were named.

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