Massachusetts Court Examines Employment for Purposes of Workers’ Compensation

People injured at work have the right to pursue workers’ compensation benefits. In exchange for that right, however, the exclusivity provision of the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) bars them from seeking other damages for their injuries from their employers. In some cases, though, it is unclear whether a person is an employee and whether the Act applies, as shown in a recent ruling issued by a Massachusetts court. If you were harmed while working, it is in your best interest to talk to a Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer regarding what benefits you may be owed.

Factual Background of the Case

It is alleged that the decedent was a graduate student at the defendant university. He sought counseling after he expressed concerns that he was failing his classes and was referred to receive mental health treatment. During his intake meeting, he denied that he had suicidal ideation and stated he did not know why he was referred there. He had several subsequent visits, however, and later admitted a history of depression and suicidal thoughts. Tragically, he died by suicide approximately two years after he began to seek help.

It is reported that the plaintiff, the administrator of the decedent’s estate, instituted a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging negligence and wrongful death claims. The defendant moved for dismissal via summary judgment, arguing that the decedent was an employee and, therefore, the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the Act. The plaintiff filed a cross-motion for summary judgment asking the court to rule as a matter of law that the decedent was not the defendant’s employee. The trial court denied both motions, and the plaintiff appealed.

Establishing Employment for Purposes of Workers’ Compensation

On appeal, the court noted that the plaintiff argued that the decedent was not an employee of the defendant at the time of his death, and therefore, the exclusivity provisions of the Act did not bar the plaintiff’s personal injury claims. In contrast, the defendant claimed that the decedent was its employee, and as such, the plaintiff was prohibited from pursuing personal injury claims against it.

The court ultimately agreed with the lower court, finding that there were too many conflicting pieces of relevant evidence for the court to rule, as a matter of law, on the issue of whether or not the decedent was an employee of the defendant at the time of his death. The court went on to note that the factual record was unclear and underdeveloped, and the briefs were inadequate to clarify the nature of the financial transactions between the decedent and the defendant or answer the question of whether the decedent was paid for his work. As such, the court found that the trial court properly denied the cross-motions for summary judgment.

Speak to a Capable Massachusetts Attorney

While employees who are hurt at work have the right to recover workers’ compensation benefits, they are barred from pursuing other damages for their harm from their employers. If you were injured at work, it is important to understand your rights, and you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is a capable Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney who is skilled at handling complex cases, and if you engage his services, he will help you seek the best outcome available under the facts of your case. You can contact Mr. Meehan by calling 508-822-6600 or via the form online to set up a meeting.