Massachusetts Court Discusses Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Parties with Prior Injuries

People involved in workplace accidents often suffer critical harm. If they suffer from a pre-existing condition prior to the accident, though, their employer may argue that their workplace injuries are not compensable. As long as their work injury constitutes a major cause of their deficits, however,  they have the right to recover damages, as explained in a recent Massachusetts case. If you were hurt while at work, you should meet with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney to evaluate what benefits are available.

Case Setting

It is alleged that the employee, a fifty-five-year-old pipefitter, suffered a neck injury on December 29, 2008, while working for the self-insured employer. The injury, combined with a pre-existing degenerative condition, led to surgery and subsequent disability. The impartial medical examiner attributed 40% of the disability to the work injury and 60% to the pre-existing condition. The administrative judge, adopting the medical examiner but disagreeing with the “major cause” interpretation, ruled that the work injury was a major cause based on the evidence before him. The board affirmed this decision. The employer appealed.

Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Parties with Pre-Existing Conditions

The appeal centered on the interpretation of the “major cause” standard under the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act, particularly when an industrial injury combines with a non-compensable pre-existing condition to cause the employee’s disability. The employer contended that the board erred in not treating the impartial medical examiner’s opinion as binding and that the board’s interpretation of the statutory phrase “a major cause” was contrary to the law.

The court applied the standards set forth in the Act for reviewing the board’s decision, emphasizing that the administrative judge has the exclusive function of making findings of fact and determining the weight given to evidence.

The court rejected the employer’s argument that the board should have deferred to the medical examiner’s opinion, asserting that the judge had the discretion to adopt credible portions of medical testimony.

Ultimately, the court upheld the board’s decision, stating that the administrative judge’s application of the correct standard rendered the employee’s burden of proof met under the Act. Additionally, the court rejected the employer’s claim that the board’s interpretation of “a major cause” was contrary to the law. It held that the statutory language was clear and unambiguous, emphasizing that the use of the article “a” implies the possibility of more than one major cause and that a major cause need not be the predominant cause. As such, the court concluded that there was no error in the board’s interpretation.

Talk to a Skilled Massachusetts Attorney

People who are hurt in workplace accidents have the right to seek workers’ compensation benefits, regardless of whether they have pre-existing conditions. If you were injured in the course of your work, it is wise to speak to an attorney promptly. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is a skilled Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer with the knowledge and resources needed to help you seek the benefits you deserve. You can contact Mr. Meehan to arrange a conference through the online contact form by calling him at 508-822-6600.