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Massachusetts Court Analyzes Effect of Workers’ Compensation Settlement on a Complaint to Join

It is commonly understood that the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act provides that if a person is injured at work and recovers workers’ compensation benefits from his or her employer, the injured party’s acceptance of benefits will act as a release, preventing the injured party from pursuing any further claims from the employer arising out of the incident. However, the injured party is not precluded from pursuing personal injury claims from other parties who may be liable.

A Massachusetts appellate court recently analyzed whether an injured party’s release of his employer via a workers’ compensation claim prevented a non-employer defendant from joining the employer as an additional defendant and alleging the employer was liable for the injured party’s harm. If you were injured while working, you may be able to recover damages from parties other than your employer, and you should speak with a skilled Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss the facts of your case and to develop a plan for seeking damages.

Facts Regarding the Plaintiff’s Employment

Reportedly, the plaintiff was hired by the employer to perform construction work. The defendant contracting company subsequently hired the employer to work as a subcontractor at a home owned by the owner of the defendant contracting company. During the course of construction, the plaintiff fell in an unguarded area and suffered severe injuries. He received workers’ compensation benefits from the employer, after which he filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant contracting company. The defendant filed an answer to the plaintiff’s complaint but subsequently sought leave to amend the answer to add the employer as an additional defendant. The defendant wished to assert claims of breach of contract, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and indemnification against the employer. The court denied the defendant’s request for leave, after which the defendant appealed.

Workers’ Compensation Act Exclusivity Provision

The exclusivity provision of the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act provides that if an employee accepts workers’ compensation payments from his or her employer he is then precluded from asserting a liability claim against the employer. Under this provision, the employer is released from any claims “arising from the injury.”  Upon review, the court held that because the employer could not be held directly liable for the plaintiff’s injury it could not be held vicariously liable either, and therefore, could not be joined on a theory of negligence.

Further, the court held that the exclusivity provision barred the defendant from pursuing any claim for indemnification. The court ruled, however, that the defendant’s breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation claims could not be dismissed at the pleading stage based on the exclusivity provision. Specifically, the allegations in both claims centered around an agreement to provide insurance for the defendant. As such, the court reversed the trial court ruling as to the breach of contract and indemnification claims.

Speak with an Experienced Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

If you were injured while working, even if you received workers’ compensation benefits, you may be able to recover damages from parties other than your employer, and you should speak with an experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss your case. The personal injury attorneys of Karsner & Meehan will work tirelessly to identify anyone who may be liable for your injuries and help you seek the maximum compensation you may be able to recover. We can be contacted at 508-822-6600 to schedule a confidential and free meeting.