Massachusetts Court Discusses Remedies for Work-Related Deaths

The Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act provides that employees hurt at work can recover benefits for their injuries. In exchange for such rights, however, they waive the right to pursue claims in tort against their employer pursuant to the exclusivity provision of the Act. As explained in a recent Massachusetts ruling, the exclusivity provision extends to bar wrongful death claims pursued by the estate of an employee killed while at work. If you lost a loved one in a workplace incident, it is smart to meet with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney to discuss your options for seeking justice.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the decedent, a residential treatment counselor at the defendant’s mental health facility, was assaulted and killed by a resident while at work. After her death, the decedent’s estate filed a wrongful death action against the directors of the facility and other parties, claiming their conduct was reckless and negligent. The directors moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that they were immune from suit for injuries sustained by the decedent during her employment under the Act. The trial court agreed and granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The decedent’s estate appealed.

The Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act as the Sole Remedy for Work-Related Deaths

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court ruling, The court explained that the Act ensures that employees receive compensation for workplace injuries, regardless of fault, by making it the exclusive remedy for such injuries. The Act establishes a trade-off: employees give up their right to sue their employers for tort injuries in exchange for guaranteed compensation. This provides predictability for both employees and employers, with insured employers being protected from lawsuits while forfeiting defenses they might have had regarding fault.

The court noted that the exclusivity provision of the Act prohibits covered employees from both receiving compensation benefits under the Act and suing their employers for injuries covered by it. However, employees can choose to waive compensation payments under the Act and bring common-law tort claims against their employers, provided they notify the employer in writing at the time of hire.

In the subject case, the court affirmed that the exclusivity provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act barred the estate’s wrongful death claim, as it precludes actions for negligence, recklessness, gross negligence, and willful and wanton misconduct against an employer when the injuries occurred in the course of employment. As such, it affirmed the trial court ruling.

Talk to an Experienced Massachusetts Attorney

Losing a loved one due to a work incident can cause both emotional and financial turmoil. If your loved one was killed in the workplace, you may be able to recover workers’ compensation benefits, and you should talk to an attorney about your options. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer who is adept at helping people recover any benefits they may be owed, and if you hire him, he will fight tirelessly on your behalf. You can reach Mr. Meehan to schedule a meeting via the form online or by calling him at 508-822-6600.