Massachusetts Court Discusses Collateral Estoppel in Workers’ Compensation Cases

Under the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act), employees hurt at work generally can recover workers’ compensation benefits. There are exceptions to the general rule, though, such as when the employee engaged in deliberate misconduct that led to their harm. In a recent matter, the court addressed the issue of whether a workers’ compensation insurer had the right to relitigate the issue of the employee’s fault when the matter had previously been resolved by an unemployment division. If you suffered harm in a workplace incident, it is smart to confer with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney about what benefits you may be able to recover.

Procedural History of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff began working as a custodian for a school located in a Massachusetts town in 1999. In 2004, he suffered injuries in an argument with his supervisor. Following an investigation, the town determined that the plaintiff was the aggressor in the incident and fired him.

Reportedly, the plaintiff then filed a claim for unemployment compensation with the Division of Unemployment Assistance (DUA). Following a hearing, the DUA determined that the employee did not instigate the altercation and granted him unemployment benefits. The town appealed to the district court, which affirmed the decision. The employee subsequently filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits with the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA). The town’s insurer argued that the employee was not entitled to benefits because his actions constituted willful and serious misconduct. The employee argued that the doctrine of collateral estoppel precluded the insurer from making the argument, but the administrative judge rejected his argument and denied his claim. The employee then appealed.

Collateral Estoppel in Workers’ Compensation Cases

On appeal, the court affirmed the administrative judge’s ruling. The court explained that prior to precluding a party from relitigating an issue, the court must find that there was a final determination on the merits in the prior proceeding, the party against whom preclusion is asserted was either a party in the prior matter or is in privity with a party, and the issues in both proceedings are identical. In the subject case, the court stated that the insurer’s lack of privity with a party in the prior proceeding prevented it from applying the doctrine of collateral estoppel. Thus, the court affirmed the administrative judge’s ruling.

Talk to a Capable Massachusetts Attorney

While generally, parties are barred from litigating the same issue more than once, the prohibition does not bar additional parties from revisiting the facts of a workers’ compensation claim. If you were hurt while working, it is important to speak to an attorney about your rights. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is a capable Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney who possesses the skills and resources needed to obtain a favorable outcome, and if you hire him, he will zealously pursue any benefits you may be owed. You can reach Mr. Meehan by calling 508-822-6600 or via the form online to set up a conference.