Massachusetts Court Discusses Pre-Existing Injuries in Workers’ Compensation Cases

Employees hurt on the job can often recover workers’ compensation benefits. In order to demonstrate benefits are warranted, they must, in part, show that they suffered a work-related injury, which can be challenging in cases in which the claimant had pre-existing injuries. In a recent Massachusetts ruling, a court explained how pre-existing injuries are handled in the context of workers’ compensation cases. If you were hurt in an accident at work, it is wise to confer with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer to determine what benefits you may be able to recover.

Factual Background

It is alleged that while cleaning up a worksite, the claimant experienced back tightness when he lifted buckets of waterproofing materials. Despite the discomfort, he completed his shift. The pain intensified over the next few days, leading him to seek treatment from a chiropractor, who continued treating the claimant until his return to work six months later. During this time, an MRI revealed disc herniations and degenerative changes.

It is reported that the claimant received treatment from a neurology office, where three physicians referred to prior back injuries and a diagnosis of pre-existing degenerative disc disease. The claimant filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, which ultimately went before an administrative judge. The judge awarded the claimant worker’s compensation benefits based on the chiropractor’s opinion, rejecting the insurer’s claim that the chiropractor’s treatments were unnecessary. The Industrial Accident Reviewing Board affirmed the decision, and the insurer appealed.

Pre-Existing Injuries in the Context of Workers’ Compensation Cases

On appeal, the court affirmed the Board’s decision. The court noted that the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) provides that if a compensable injury combines with a pre-existing condition to cause disability or necessitate treatment, an employee is only eligible to recover compensation to the extent that the compensable injury remains a significant cause of the disability.

In the subject case, the insurer contended that the heightened causation standard of the Act was wrongly deemed inapplicable and that the burden of proof was misallocated. The court rejected this assertion. The court explained that the Act imposes an elevated burden of proving causation on employees claiming benefits for injuries resulting from a combination of compensable and non-compensable injuries.

The insurer must first present evidence that the prior injury is non-compensable, however, and that the claimed injury is a result of the combination. The burden then shifts to the employee to demonstrate either a compensable prior injury or that the claimed injury isn’t a combination with a non-compensable one.

In the subject case, the court concluded that the insurer had failed to meet its burden of producing sufficient evidence to shift the burden to the claimant. The medical records provided by the claimant did not definitively show a combination of the prior injury with the current work injury. Therefore, the insurer’s argument that the chiropractor’s treatments were excessive was unconvincing. As such, the court upheld the Board’s ruling.

Meet with a Trusted Massachusetts Attorney

People hurt while working can often recover both income and medical benefits, but only if they demonstrate their harm is work-related. If you sustained an injury at work, you could be owed workers’ compensation benefits, and you should meet with an attorney. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is a trusted Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer who can apprise you of your rights and aid you in seeking the maximum benefits recoverable under the law. You can contact Mr. Meehan to schedule a meeting via the form online or by calling him at 508-822-6600.