Massachusetts Court Addresses Intentional Torts and Workers’ Compensation

The Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) provides the sole remedy for parties who suffer injuries arising out of the course and scope of their employment. There are exceptions to the exclusivity provision of the Act, however, that allow employees to pursue civil claims against their employers. The exceptions to the exclusivity provision were the topic of a recent Massachusetts opinion issued in a case in which a legal secretary sought compensation for harm caused by intentional acts. If you sustained harm at work, it is in your best interest to consult a capable Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer regarding what benefits you may be able to recover.

The Plaintiff’s Harm

Reportedly, the plaintiff worked for the defendant as a legal secretary at his law firm. Initially, she was his only employee, but he expanded his staff over the years. The evidence demonstrated that he regularly engaged in abusive behavior towards the plaintiff, such as belittling and verbally attacking her and screaming and shouting in her face.

It is alleged that the plaintiff ultimately left the defendant’s employ and filed a lawsuit against him, asserting intentional infliction of emotional distress and other claims. The defendant moved for dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims, arguing they were barred by the exclusivity provision of the Act. The case proceeded to trial, and a jury found in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant then appealed.

Intentional Torts in the Context of Workers’ Compensation Claims

Under the exclusivity provision of the Act, the Act supplants common law causes of action for harm sustained by an employee during the course of employment unless the employee waives the right to workers’ compensation benefits under the Act when they are hired. As such, actions against an employer for willful and wanton conduct, negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness are generally precluded by the exclusivity provision. There are exceptions to the exclusivity provision, however.

Specifically, the exclusivity provision will not bar a claim against a fellow employee who commits an intentional tort that in no way furthered the interests of the employer or was within the scope of employment. In the subject case, the trial court found that the plaintiff’s intentional infliction of emotional distress claims fell under the exception to the exclusivity provision, noting that being subjected to such intentional torts was not an accepted risk of doing business. The appellate court found the trial court’s reasoning to be sound and affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with an Experienced Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Attorney

People who suffer harm in the workplace are often owed workers’ compensation benefits, and in some cases, they may be able to recover civil damages as well. If you sustained damages due to work-related harm, it is advisable to meet with an attorney to discuss your rights. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer with the knowledge and resources needed to help you seek the best legal result available under the facts of your case.  You can contact Mr. Meehan by calling him at 508-822-6600 or using the form online to set up a conference.