Massachusetts Court Examines Evidence Demonstrating a Death Is Work-Related

Massachusetts’ Workers’ Compensation Act provides that people that suffer the loss of a loved one due to a work accident have the right to recover survivor benefits. As with employee claims for workers’ compensation benefits, survivors must demonstrate that the harm that led to their loved one’s death was work-related. Recently, a Massachusetts court examined the evidence needed to prove an injury arose due to work conditions in a case in which an insurer challenged a widow’s right to benefits. If you suffered the loss of a loved one due to a work injury, it is wise to confer with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer to discuss your rights at your earliest opportunity.

History of the Case

It is reported that the decedent worked as a custodian at an elementary school in Woburn. He suffered a sudden cardiac death due to ventricular arrhythmia while operating a snow blower at work and died at the age of fifty-two. His widow subsequently filed a workers’ compensation claim, and an administrative judge awarded her burial expenses and survivor benefits. The school’s insurer appealed the decision, which was affirmed by a reviewing board. The insurer then appealed to a Massachusetts state court.

Evidence Demonstrating a Death Is Work-Related

On appeal, the insurer argued that the judge improperly applied a statute that provides that when an employee is found dead at the workplace, it is presumed that the death is causally related to employment. The judge found that the decedent’s work activities were a major contributing cause of his sudden cardiac arrest and his death. The appellate court upheld the judge’s conclusion, stating that the insurer’s evidence failed to overcome the presumption afforded by the statute. The court reasoned that the decedent’s death, due to the severity of his preexisting coronary artery disease, could be triggered by any level of physical exertion.

The insurer also asserted that the decedent’s death resulted solely from his preexisting coronary artery disease, not from his work activities. The board concluded that the statute the insurer relied upon did not apply in cases of workplace deaths and that it was exclusive to personal injuries. The court disagreed, however, and clarified that they were not mutually exclusive.

The court stated that the combination injury defense could be applied in cases of workplace deaths, requiring evidence of a non-compensable preexisting condition and medical expert evidence on causation. The court found that the board’s error in its conclusion did not affect the overall decision, though. As such, the court upheld the board’s decision and affirmed the award of burial expenses and survivor benefits to the decedent’s widow.

Confer with an Experienced Massachusetts Attorney

While money is insufficient to heal the wounds caused by the loss of a loved one, workers’ compensation survivor benefits can help address the financial harm brought about by a family member’s death on the job. If you lost a loved one in a work accident, it is smart to confer with an attorney about what benefits you may be owed. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney who can inform you of your options and help you seek a just outcome. You can contact Mr. Meehan to set up a meeting by using the form online or by calling him at 508-822-6600.