Massachusetts Court Discusses Lump-Sum Agreements in Workers’ Compensation Cases

Pursuant to the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act), people who sustain injuries while working are often able to recover benefits from their employers. While some benefits are paid on a weekly basis, in other instances, an employer will offer a lump sum to resolve an employee’s claims. Generally, lump-sum agreements preclude parties from seeking further benefits for the same work-related harm. If the terms of the agreement are vague, though, a court may need to intervene to determine whether subsequent harm is compensable, as demonstrated in a recent opinion issued in a Massachusetts workers’ compensation case. If you sustained harm in a workplace accident, you could be owed benefits from your employer, and it is advisable to speak to a Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible.

The Subject Harm

It is reported that the plaintiff worked at an assisted living facility as a resident services assistant. In 2016, she was lifting a resident out of a wheelchair when she injured her right neck and shoulder. She subsequently underwent a surgical repair of her right shoulder; prior to the surgery, she was favoring her right shoulder, which caused pain in her left shoulder. She continued to have pain in her left shoulder after the surgery.

Allegedly, the insurer for the facility accepted liability for the right shoulder injuries and subsequent care about a year after the accident, and the parties entered into a lump-sum agreement. The agreement specified the diagnosis as a right shoulder tear and included a provision stating that it closed out any claim the plaintiff may have for harm arising out of the same incident. A year later, however, the plaintiff filed a second claim seeking benefits for injuries to her left shoulder. The insurer opposed the claim on the basis that it was barred by the lump-sum agreement. The administrative judge found in favor of the insurer, and the plaintiff appealed.

Lump-Sum Agreements as a Bar to Recovery

The appellate court affirmed the administrative judge’s ruling, finding that the lump sum agreement for the plaintiff’s right shoulder injuries barred her from filing a claim for left shoulder injuries that arose from the same incident. The court explained that employees are precluded from filing claims for known but unspecified injuries arising out of an accident that is known prior to signing a lump-sum agreement.

Once such an agreement obtains approval from an administrative judge, the payment made fully settles the employee’s claims unless it specifically states otherwise in the agreement. As there was no provision in the subject agreement that permitted the plaintiff to pursue subsequent claims for harm to her left shoulder, the court affirmed the administrative judge’s decision.

Confer with an Experienced Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

Employers often pay injured employees workers’ compensation benefits in a lump sum, which can impact the employees’ potential claims going forward. If you suffered harm in a workplace accident, it is smart to speak to an attorney regarding your rights. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer who can advise you of your options and help you to seek the maximum amount of benefits recoverable under the law. You can contact Mr. Meehan by calling 508-822-6600 or by using the online form to set up a conference.