Massachusetts Court Discusses Tort and Workers’ Compensation Claims

It is not uncommon for Massachusetts workers to be hurt on the job. Fortunately, the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) allows most people injured while working to recover workers’ compensation benefits. In exchange for that right, however, they are barred from seeking damages for work-related injuries from their employer in tort. While typically, it is clear whether an employer-employee relationship exists so as to trigger the act, as shown in a recent Massachusetts case, in some instances it is less certain. If you were hurt at work, it is wise to meet with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney to assess your rights.

Case Background

It is reported that the plaintiff suffered an injury while working on an assignment from a staffing agency to the defendant.  The plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against the defendant. While this lawsuit was ongoing, the plaintiff received workers’ compensation benefits through the staffing agency’s policy, which included the defendant as an additional insured. The defendant moved for summary judgment, citing the Act’s exclusivity provisions. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint. The plaintiff appealed.

The Employer-Employee Relationship in the Context of Workers’ Compensation Claims

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial ruling. The court noted that the plaintiff’s injury was covered by the Act and that he received benefits from the staffing agency’s workers’ compensation insurer. The court also distinguished between the staffing agency as the “general employer” and the defendant as the “special employer” and pointed out the existence of an “alternate employer endorsement,” specifically naming the defendant in the staffing agency’s workers’ compensation.

The court then examined the Act’s provisions, emphasizing that it provides the exclusive remedy for claims by an injured employee against an employer. They highlighted that for a special employer like the defendant to claim immunity from common-law liability under the Act, two conditions had to be met: the employer must be liable for workers’ compensation benefits, and it must be the direct employer of the employee.

Regarding the first condition, the court referred to the section of the Act addressing cases involving both a general employer and a special employer. It clarified that if an agreement existed between these employers for the special employer to be liable for carrying workers’ compensation insurance, then the special employer could be immune from tort liability. In the absence of such an agreement, the general employer would be liable for benefits. Here, because the defendant met the second condition (being the direct employer), the court examined whether the “alternate employer endorsement” constituted the required agreement.

The court found that the endorsement indeed met this requirement. It recognized that the endorsement’s purpose was to provide coverage to the defendant and make it an insured employer for workers’ compensation claims. By designating the defendant as an additional insured, the endorsement served as the kind of agreement envisioned in the Act, thus rendering the defendant immune from the plaintiff’s lawsuit.

Consult an Experienced Massachusetts Attorney

The Workers’ Compensation Act provides benefits for work-related injuries, but in return, employees generally give up the right to file tort claims. If you’ve been injured at work, it is smart to consult an attorney to understand your legal options. James K. Meehan, an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer, can help you navigate your rights and explore ways to pursue a fair resolution. You can contact Mr. Meehan to arrange a consultation either through the online form or by dialing 508-822-6600.