Massachusetts Court Discusses Evidence of Workers’ Compensation Claims in Civil Cases

People who suffer injuries while on the job may be owed worker’s compensation benefits. Additionally, if their harm arose out of the negligence of a party other than their employer, they may be able to pursue civil claims for damages as well. In such instances, the defendant will often try to introduce evidence of the workers’ compensation benefits the plaintiff received during the civil proceedings, but they are typically precluded from doing so on the grounds that it is prejudicial to the plaintiff. Recently, a Massachusetts court addressed the issue of whether the converse is true in a matter in which the plaintiff introduced evidence of his workers’ compensation claim during a civil trial. If you were hurt while working, you could be owed workers’ compensation benefits and other damages, and it is advisable to speak to a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney regarding your options.

The Facts of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff, who worked as a mail carrier, covered a route for one of his co-workers. While he was delivering mail to the defendant’s home, the defendant’s dog approached him. He offered the dog a treat, but the dog proceeded to bite him on the wrist of his opposite hand and shake his head violently for several seconds. The plaintiff pried his arm from the dog’s mouth, after which the dog proceeded to bite him on the left leg. He ultimately broke free from the dog, after which the defendant came out of her house and asked him if the dog “got” him.

Allegedly, the plaintiff suffered a significant injury to his wrist and subsequently filed a workers’ compensation claim. He proceeded to file a civil lawsuit against the defendant as well, alleging the defendant was liable under the dog bite law. Prior to trial, the plaintiff moved to introduce evidence of the workers’ compensation benefits he received following the attack. The defendant objected to the admission of such evidence, arguing that the jury would treat it as proof of causation and damages. The court granted the plaintiff’s motion, and the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, awarding him $375,000. The defendant appealed.

Evidence of a Workers’ Compensation During Civil Proceedings

The sole issue on appeal was whether the trial court erred in permitting the plaintiff to introduce evidence of his workers’ compensation claim. The appellate court explained that evidence of payments from a collateral source is typically precluded, as it may lead jurors to believe that the plaintiff is seeking a double recovery or that they have already been compensated for their harm.

While the opposite scenario arose in the present case, the appellate court nonetheless found the introduction of such evidence to be improper. Specifically, it ruled that the evidence suggested to the jury that a third party had concluded that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s harm. The court found, however, that the judge’s limiting instructions diminished the risk of prejudice. Thus, it affirmed the judgment.

Confer with a Dedicated Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

Defendants are typically precluded from introducing evidence that a plaintiff received compensation from other sources during civil trials, and in some cases, the courts will bar plaintiffs from offering such evidence as well. If you were injured at work, you might be owed workers’ compensation benefits, and it is advisable to confer with an attorney to discuss your rights. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is a dedicated workers’ compensation lawyer with the skills and experience needed to help you seek a just outcome, and if you hire him, he will advocate zealously on your behalf. You can reach him via the form online or by calling 508-822-6600 to set up a meeting.