Massachusetts Court Discusses Benefits Recoverable for Injuries Sustained at Work

In Massachusetts, public employees who are unable to work due to injuries sustained on the job can often recover accidental disability retirement benefits. As with workers’ compensation claims, however, they must demonstrate they sustained a personal injury during the performance of work duties in order to be eligible for such benefits. Recently,  a Massachusetts court assessed whether a heart attack suffered an hour after a claimant was advised her job was being eliminated constituted a compensable injury, ultimately concluding that it did. If you suffered harm while working, you should meet with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer to examine what benefits you may be owed.

The Facts of the Case

The claimant had worked as an administrative assistant in the Department of Public Works since 1975, and her responsibilities included various clerical tasks. On March 22, 2000, her supervisor informed her that her job would be eliminated effective July 1, 2000. She became distressed and left work early that day. A short while later, she experienced chest pain and was diagnosed with an acute myocardial infarction. She did not return to work and subsequently applied for accidental disability retirement benefits.

Multiple administrative and judicial proceedings followed, including evaluations by a medical panel and decisions by the Retirement Board of Salem and the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC). Ultimately, CRAB determined that the claimant’s heart attack was caused by the emotional stress of her job loss discussion and that she was disabled due to physical causes, making her eligible for retirement benefits. The Board appealed the determination.

Benefits Recoverable for Personal Injuries Sustained at Work

The court addressed two main issues on appeal. First, whether the heart attack qualified as a “personal injury” within the statute, and second, whether the injury occurred “while in the performance of” work duties. The court relied on the definition of “personal injury” from the Workers’ Compensation Act, which excludes emotional or mental disabilities caused by bona fide personnel actions. Since The claimant’s heart attack was a physical disability resulting from emotional stress, it fell outside this exclusion.

Regarding the performance of work duties, the court agreed with CRAB’s interpretation that The claimant’s conversation with her supervisor leading to her heart attack occurred “while in the performance of” her duties. The court emphasized that she was injured while complying with her supervisor’s directive to meet and discuss her job status, an action that constituted being actively engaged in her work duties. Based on the foregoing, the court upheld CRAB’s decision to grant the claimant accidental disability retirement benefits.

Talk to a Skilled Massachusetts Attorney

Bodily harm does not actually have to occur in the workplace in order for it to be considered work-related, as defined by the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act. If you were hurt because of your job, you might be able to recover workers’ compensation benefits, and you should talk to an attorney. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is a skilled Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer who can aid you in seeking the best outcome possible under the facts of your case. You can reach Mr. Meehan to schedule a meeting via the form online or by calling him at 508-822-6600.