Massachusetts Appeals Court Looks at Exclusivity Provision in Workers’ Compensation Act

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.

The purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Act is to provide quick financial relief to an injured employee, while also providing peace of mind to the employer through certainty that the matter is resolved and will not result in lengthy litigation. The Appeals Court found the employee and the employer both participated in the DIA benefit determination process as the parties in Maxwell v. AIG Domestic Claims, Inc., 460 Mass. 91, 111 (2011), by reaching a settlement under Section 48 of the Act. Since the parties reached a settlement, this became the injured person’s exclusive remedy against the employer. The decision dismissing the negligence case was affirmed.

If you’ve been injured on the job but are unaware of your status like the injured person in this case, the Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan can help you navigate a route to payment for your incurred damages. As experienced workers’ compensation and personal injury attorneys, our office has the knowledge to help maximize the money you receive. We understand there’s a lot of stress watching medical bills pile up while you are unable to work, and we’re here to help.  For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office today at 508-822-6600.

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