Massachusetts Court Discusses the Zone of Danger in Workers’ Compensation Cases

Generally, the law protects employees who suffer injuries at work by granting them the right to recover workers’ compensation benefits for work-related harm. While generally, such rights are conferred by state law, they can arise from federal law, like the Defense Base Act, as well. In a recent Massachusetts case, a court discussed the parameters of the Defense Base Act, ultimately finding that it applied and that an employee’s death was compensable. If your loved one died because of a workplace accident, it is smart to meet with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney to determine your rights.

Case Setting

It is alleged that the claimant filed a claim following the death of her husband, who worked as a Chief Engineer for the employer. The decedent’s duties included working five days a week with the possibility of being called in for emergencies. As part of his employment benefits, the employer provided vouchers for taxi services within a 25-kilometer radius of the city center, with no restrictions on time or purpose of travel. The decedent was in a taxi en route to a grocery store when it was involved in a fatal head-on collision.

Reportedly, the administrative law judge found the accident compensable under the “zone of special danger” doctrine, deeming it foreseeable given the conditions and obligations of the decedent’s employment. The judge noted that the employer required the decedent to work and reside in a hazardous area, provided him with housing allowances and taxi vouchers, and permitted their use for any reason, including grocery shopping. Consequently, the judge awarded death benefits to the claimant, ruling that the decedent’s death was work-related and compensable under the Defense Base Act (the Act). The employer appealed.

The Zone of Danger Doctrine in Workers’ Compensation Cases

On appeal, the employer disputed the application of the “zone of special danger” doctrine in this case. Specifically, the employer argued that the decedent’s activity at the time of the accident was personal and thus not within the scope of compensable injuries under the Act.

The court rejected this argument, however, emphasizing that under the Act, an injury is considered work-related if it arises out of the conditions or obligations of employment, even if it occurs outside the usual time and space boundaries of work.

The court noted that the “zone of special danger” doctrine extends coverage to injuries resulting from foreseeable risks associated with employment conditions. It found that the decedent’s employment in a hazardous locale, coupled with the provision of taxi vouchers for various purposes, made the accident foreseeable.

Therefore, the court upheld the administrative law judge’s decision, affirming that the decedent’s death was compensable under the Act. The court concluded that the judge’s findings were rational, supported by substantial evidence, and consistent with relevant legal precedents, thus affirming the decision.

Talk to an Experienced Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Attorney

There are numerous federal and state laws that dictate employers must provide employees who suffer work-related harm workers’ compensation benefits in certain circumstances, but it is not unusual for employers to attempt to avoid their obligations. If you sustained harm while working, it is wise to talk to a lawyer about your options. Attorney James K. Meehan is an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer. You can reach Attorney Meehan at 508-822-6600 or via our convenient online contact form to arrange a confidential consultation.