Massachusetts Court Discusses Disability Status in Workers’ Compensation Cases

Massachusetts workers who are injured on the job are often entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Depending on the nature and extent of their injuries, they may be owed not only medical benefits but also disability benefits. Generally, whether disability benefits are owed is based, in part, on whether a person is able to earn an income in any capacity. Recently, a Massachusetts court issued a ruling discussing what evidence is needed to demonstrate an injured employee is completely disabled in a case in which the plaintiff argued he was owed additional benefits. If you were injured at work, you could be owed benefits, and you should speak to a skilled Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney regarding your case.

The Claimant’s Harm

It is reported that the plaintiff was employed as an ironworker for a transportation authority. His job involved heavy lifting, and at one point, he suffered permanent injuries to his back and shoulder while performing his duties. As such, he filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits from his employer. He was ultimately awarded permanent partial disability benefits by an administrative judge at the Department of Industrial Accidents. As it was determined he could still perform light-duty work at a retail job, he was not deemed totally disabled. The reviewing board affirmed the judge’s decision, and the plaintiff appealed.

Disability Determinations in Workers’ Compensation Cases

The court noted that the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries were not disputed on appeal. Rather, the sole issue before the court was whether the plaintiff was totally disabled. The plaintiff argued that, as he was employed for many years as an ironworker, being forced to take a low-paying retail job would be so degrading that such a position should not be considered when determining his ability to earn an income.

The court was sympathetic to the plaintiff’s plight but noted that neither statutory nor case law supported his position. The court explained that the plaintiff could show that he was totally disabled by demonstrating that his injuries prevented him from performing work for compensation that is substantial and not merely insignificant in character. Thus, a person that can only work in positions that are insubstantial or trifling in character may nonetheless be deemed totally disabled.

This standard, though, is not well defined, and whether a person is permanently disabled remains a question of fact. In the subject case, the administrative judge found that the plaintiff was not totally disabled because he could earn minimum wage at a retail job. The court noted that to overturn the decision it would essentially have to find that a job held by a large portion of the population was insignificant. Thus, the plaintiff’s appeal was denied.

Meet with a Knowledgeable Workers’ Compensation Attorney

People who are injured at work are often unable to earn an income, but in many instances, they are able to recover disability benefits from their employer’s workers’ compensation insurer. If you were hurt at work, you should meet with an attorney to discuss what benefits you may be owed. Knowledgeable Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer James K. Meehan can advise you of your rights and help you to seek the best outcome possible under the circumstances. You can reach us at 508-822-6600 or via the form online to set up a conference.