Massachusetts Court Discusses Determining if Harm is Work-Related

In Massachusetts, people hurt at work are limited in terms of recovery for their losses. Specifically, while work-related harm garners them the right to recover workers’ compensation benefits, it is at the exclusion of other civil damages pursuant to the provisions of the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act). If an employee’s injury is not work-related, though, it may not fall under the terms of the Act. A Massachusetts court recently addressed the issue of what constitutes a work injury in a case involving an employee’s accidental overdose. If you lost a loved one because of a work-related injury, it is wise to confer with a skilled Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney about your right to recover benefits.

The Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the decedent, who was 16 years old, worked at a fast-food restaurant. She visited the restaurant during one of her days off and obtained narcotics from a co-worker. Later that day, she died of an accidental overdose. The decedent’s mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against numerous parties, including those that had managerial, supervisory, and ownership interests in the restaurant.

It is reported that her complaint alleged that the defendants knew or should have known that the co-worker regularly used illegal drugs, and their failure to enforce their zero-tolerance drug policy caused the decedent’s death. The defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint, arguing, among other things, that her emotional distress claims were barred by the exclusivity provision of the Act.

Determining Whether Harm is Work-Related

The main question the court was tasked with resolving with regards to the issue of workers’ compensation exclusivity was whether the harm suffered by the decedent was work-related. The court explained that the Act was enacted to provide a uniform statutory remedy for injured workers.

The Act applies to employees who sustain injuries in the course of their employment and requires employees to waive their right to seek damages in tort in exchange for their right to recover workers’ compensation benefits for their harm. In the subject case, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant supervisor and manager were liable for her emotional distress because they failed to enforce the restaurant’s drug policy, and such omissions caused the decedent’s death and the plaintiff’s resulting emotional trauma.

The court noted that whether the allegedly tortious conduct barred the plaintiff’s claims hinged on whether the underlying injury was compensable; in other words, whether it arose during the course of employment. The court explained that the question could not be resolved at this stage of proceedings, and therefore, denied the defendant’s motion.

Meet with an Experienced Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Attorney

People hurt on the job are often owed workers’ compensation benefits, and if they pass away due to their injuries, the right to recover benefits transfers to their loved ones. If you have questions regarding your right to pursue a worker’s compensation claim, it is smart to meet with an attorney. 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 a just outcome, and if you hire him, he will advocate tirelessly on your behalf.  You can contact Mr. Meehan via the form online or by calling him at 508-822-6600 to set up a meeting.