Massachusetts Appeals Court Upholds Lost Wages Award

In Massachusetts personal injury cases, seeking damages for lost wages is often necessary to make an injured party whole. Much time is often needed to recover from a serious injury, and an injured person may not have access to funds during this period. Workers’ compensation provides money to cover lost wages during the recovery period, but disputes can still occur over the appropriate amount to be paid. Having experienced counsel at your side, whether it is a workers’ compensation claim or personal injury litigation, can help maximize the lost wage damages you deserve.

The Appeals Court recently assessed an award of lost wages in a Massachusetts labor action before the Employment Relations Board. The plaintiff had been laid off by a local highway department. The plaintiff sought assistance from his union with the lay off, but they failed to file a grievance for him. A hearing was held with the Dept. of Labor Relations over this failure, and the hearing officer found the union to have violated G. L. c. 150E, § 10(b)(1). This was affirmed by the board, which then ordered the union to pay for the loss of compensation he suffered as a result of its failure to process his grievance about the timing of his layoff. The Board specifically directed the union to pay him 34 days’ worth of lost wages plus interest, as specified in G. L. c. 231, § 6I. The board did not agree with the plaintiff’s request for reinstatement and full back pay, since no one would have known the outcome of the hearing had the union assisted in avoiding the lay off. This was particularly true because the town had voted to reduce the highway department’s budget.

Massachusetts G. L. c. 30A, § 14(7) directs the Appeals Court to be very deferential to the decision of the administrative agency, giving weight to the experience, competence, and technical and specialized knowledge of the agency. The appellate court must affirm the decision unless there was a violation of a constitutional provision, an excess of statutory authority or jurisdiction, an error of law, an unlawful procedure, a finding unsupported by substantial evidence, unwarranted findings of fact, or an abuse of discretion. With this level of deference, it is difficult for the appealing party to show the interpretation and application of the law was not rational.

In this case, the plaintiff argued the board’s determination was arbitrary and capricious, not supported by substantial evidence, unwarranted on the facts found, and based on an error of law. The Court of Appeals did not see it this way. Case law and statutes both provide broad discretion to the board to determine which remedy is appropriate for a union member. The court looked at the record and found much evidence to support the board’s chosen remedy. There was no dispute the union failed in its obligation and was the cause of the four-day loss of work before the town’s vote to cut the highway department’s budget. The appellate court found the assessment of 34 days of lost pay to be reasonable because the layoff and budget vote would have been delayed for 30 days if the union prevailed in arbitration. The appellate court found the remedy awarded put the plaintiff in a close position to where he would have been had the union performed its negotiated duties in the collective bargaining agreement. The decision was affirmed, and the award, as is, remained intact.

Administrative and civil court procedures can quickly become esoteric. The Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan can help you navigate the applicable legal process to maximize the damages you deserve. For a free, confidential consultation, call 508.822.6600.

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