Massachusetts Court Discusses Civil Liability and Workers’ Compensation

The Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) grants certain protections for employees. Specifically, it allows them to recover medical and wage loss benefits from their employers if they sustain injuries in the workplace. In exchange for such rights, though, employees are generally precluded from pursuing civil claims against their employers for workplace harm. There are some exceptions to the general rule, such as those that arise under the dual persona theory, but as discussed in a recent Massachusetts case, they only apply in narrow circumstances. If you sustained injuries at work, it is wise to talk to a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney to determine your options.

Factual and Procedural Background

It is alleged that the plaintiff, who worked as a bookkeeper who worked for the defendants, sustained injuries in a fall on the steps of the defendants’ residence. The defendants, trustees of a realty trust, operated their business from their home. The plaintiff received workers’ compensation benefits for her injuries from the Trust’s insurer.

It is reported that the plaintiff subsequently sued the defendants individually, alleging that their negligent maintenance of the premises caused her injuries. The defendants moved for summary judgment, asserting that the Plaintiff’s claim was barred by exclusivity provisions of the Act.

Employer Civil Liability in the Context of Workers’ Compensation Claims

The Workers’ Compensation Act stipulates that if an injured employee accepts compensation from the employer’s workers’ compensation insurer, the employer is released from all common law claims arising from the injury.

While injured employees cannot sue their employers under workers’ compensation laws, they may pursue tort claims against third parties liable for the injuries. In the subject case, the plaintiff argued for a “dual persona” theory, suggesting that the defendants could be sued individually as third parties responsible for her injury.

The court disagreed, however, stating that for this theory to apply, the defendants’ actions unrelated to their status as employers must generate obligations distinct from their role as employers. This theory, recognized in other jurisdictions, posits that a second function of a single entity can result in a separate legal persona if it generates obligations unrelated to the entity’s status as an employer. T

Therefore, in exceptional cases, an employer’s actions unrelated to its role as an employer may lead to tort liability despite the exclusivity provisions of the Act. In this case, the court found that the defendants’ roles as property owners and trustees were not sufficiently independent from their capacity as employers to justify individual liability.

The court cited cases where similar claims were rejected, emphasizing that allowing the Plaintiff to sue the defendants individually would undermine the purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Consequently, the court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, dismissing the claims against them.

Confer with a Skilled Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Attorney

Employees injured in workplace accidents can often recover workers’ compensation benefits but are precluded from pursuing civil claims against their employers. If you sustained harm while working, it is advisable to confer with an attorney as soon as possible. Attorney James K. Meehan is a skilled Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney with the knowledge and experience needed to help you seek a just outcome. To reach Attorney Meehan, you can use our online form or call him at 508-822-6600 to arrange a confidential conference.