Court Discusses Equitable Contribution in Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Claims

Under the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act), employees hurt at work can often recover benefits from their employers. In most instances, such benefits are paid by insurance companies via workers’ compensation policies. If more than one policy covers an employer, though, the company paying benefits has a right to seek contribution from other insurers covering the loss, as demonstrated in a recent Massachusetts case.  If you suffered injuries or contracted an illness due to workplace conditions, you might be owed benefits, and you should speak with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney about your potential claims.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that an employee suffered a severe injury during a business trip covered by two workers’ compensation policies from different insurers. He subsequently sought workers’ compensation benefits from his employer. The employer only notified the first insurance company of the claim. After initially covering the costs, the first insurance company later sought contribution from the second insurance company. The second insurance company refused the tender, leading the first insurance company to file an action for equitable contribution.

Reportedly, the second insurance company moved for summary judgment. The court granted the motion. The first insurance company appealed, and the trial court posed a certified question regarding workers’ compensation insurance policies to the appellate court. Specifically, the court questioned whether an insured party can choose which insurer defends and indemnifies a claim by intentionally tendering the defense to one insurer and not the other, thus precluding the insurer to which no tender was made from obtaining contribution.

Equitable Contribution in Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Claims

The court addressed the principle of equitable contribution, emphasizing that when multiple insurers cover the same loss, the paying insurer has a right to seek a proportionate contribution from other insurers. The court rejected the notion that an insured’s intentional selective tender – notifying only one insurer and not the other – could preclude the insurer receiving notice from seeking equitable contribution.

The court held that under Massachusetts law, an insured’s failure to give notice to a particular insurer does not absolve that insurer of its liability, as the duty to defend and indemnify is triggered by notice from the injured employee. The court further rejected the “selective tender” exception, which would excuse an insurer from its duty to contribute if the insured purposely chose not to notify it of the claim.

Finally, the court called attention to the statutory framework of workers’ compensation insurance, which dictates that the insurer is directly liable to the injured employee, irrespective of the insured’s notice. Adopting the selective tender exception would conflict with Massachusetts law and undermine the purpose of equitable contribution, leading the court to answer the certified question with a definitive “no.”

Talk to an Experienced Massachusetts Attorney

If you suffered harm in a workplace accident or due to conditions you encountered in the workplace, you may be owed workers’ compensation benefits, and it is in your best interest to talk to an attorney as soon as possible. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer who is proficient at helping injured employees recover benefits for their harm, and if you hire him, he will advocate zealously on your behalf. You can contact him to arrange a consultation through the online contact form or by calling him at 508-822-6600.