Massachusetts Court Examines Grounds for Awarding Permanent Loss Benefits

Work place injuries often cause not only physical harm but also psychological trauma as well. In many instances, people who suffer enduring loss of function due to physical impairments may be able to recover permanent loss benefits. As explained in a recent Massachusetts case, the Department of Industrial Accidents has the authority to assess whether such benefits are warranted. If you suffered mental or physical harm while working, you may be owed benefits, and you should contact a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney.

Background of the Case

It is alleged that the claimant, a former heavy equipment mechanic for the employer, suffered an industrial injury to the elbow and shoulder, leading to the subsequent development of anxiety and depression. These conditions hindered the claimant from working and significantly affected his daily life, and he was awarded various benefits pursuant to the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act. He later filed a workers’ compensation claim for permanent loss of psychiatric function under the Act, which was ultimately denied. He appealed.

Grounds for Awarding Permanent Loss Benefits

The sole issue on appeal was whether benefits for permanent loss of psychiatric function should be available to the claimant. To resolve this issue, the court looked at the Department of Industrial Accidents’ authority in determining the applicable edition of the American Medical Association Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (AMA Guides) for assessing psychiatric impairment.

Despite the insurer’s argument against the department’s authority, the court ruled that it is necessary to establish the claimant’s entitlement to compensation under the Act. Affirming the decision of the reviewing board, the court held that the most up-to-date version of the AMA Guides, the 6th edition, should be applied in the claimant’s case.

The court clarified that the reviewing board and the administrative judge, as administrative tribunals, possess the authority to review decisions, ensuring that impairment ratings align with the latest scientific and clinical knowledge. Upholding the reviewing board’s interpretation, the court concurred that psychiatric losses of function are appropriately rated under chapter 14 of the AMA Guides 6th edition when caused by physical impairments.

The claimant argued for eligibility under the Act, asserting that the psychiatric loss of function is independent. However, the court aligned with the board, stating that such losses must be caused by the industrial accident itself. Emphasizing that Chapter 14 should not be used when psychological issues are encompassed within the rating for physical impairments, the court rejected the claimant’s assertion, concluding that the psychiatric reaction to pain is not ratable under Chapter 14.

Finally, the court deferred to the reviewing board’s interpretation of its regulations, underscoring the rationality of the board’s stance in alignment with the principles set forth in the AMA Guides 6th edition.

Meet with an Experienced Massachusetts Attorney

If you suffered emotional or physical harm due to workplace conditions, you may be owed workers’ compensation benefits, and you should meet with an attorney to discuss your options. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer who can inform you of your rights and help you to pursue a just outcome. You can reach Mr. Meehan to arrange a meeting through the online contact form by calling him at 508-822-6600.