Massachusetts Court Examines Intervening Causes in Workers’ Compensation Cases

It is well-established that the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act affords people the right to seek workers’ compensation benefits following workplace injuries. Issues in recovering such benefits can arise, however, if the employee suffers a second injury that is not work related. In a recent Massachusetts case, the court looked at what constitutes an intervening cause for the purposes of recovering workers’ compensation benefits. If you suffered injuries on the job, you should talk to a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney about your possible claims.

Procedural and Factual Setting

It is reported that the employee suffered injuries following a fall at work and subsequent activities, including lifting steel rebar at work the following day. The employer acknowledges the compensability of these injuries but disputes the finding that the plaintiff’s later painting activity, specifically painting his brother’s kitchen, was non-work related. The employee sought workers’ compensation benefits, which an administrative judge granted. The employer appealed, and on appeal, the reviewing board of the Department of Industrial Accidents upheld the administrative judge’s decision. The employer filed a subsequent appeal.

Intervening Causes in Workers’ Compensation Cases

The central question on appeal was whether the administrative judge applied an incorrect legal standard of intervening cause. The court explained that it would examine the administrative judge’s findings and reasoning to determine if her decision was arbitrary or capricious.

The court further emphasized that the decision must be upheld unless it lacks evidentiary support or a different conclusion is required by law. Here, the administrative judge applied the “intervening cause” standard, where non-work-related activity is considered an intervening cause only if it is normal, reasonable, and not performed negligently in light of the employee’s impairment. The judge concluded that the employee’s painting activity was nonwork but retained a causal connection to the original work accidents, and thus, the injuries remained compensable.

The court found that the judge’s decision was not arbitrary or capricious. It acknowledged the judge’s reliance on evidence, including the testimony of an independent medical examiner and the employee’s continuous back pain since the industrial accidents. Crediting these findings, the court underscored that determinations of fact, credibility, and evidence weight are within the exclusive function of the administrative judge.

As such, the court rejected the employer’s argument. In doing so, the court clarified that the insurer’s interpretation of “work” is inconsistent with workers’ compensation statutes, emphasizing that “work” activities pertain to actions within an employment relationship as defined by these statutes. The employee’s brother, who did not meet the definition of an “employer” under the statute, makes the judge’s application of the “nonwork” standard appropriate. Ultimately, the court affirmed the decision of the reviewing board and granted the employee’s request for reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

Meet with an Experienced Massachusetts Attorney

If you sustained injuries at work, it is in your best interest to meet with an attorney to discuss what benefits you may be owed. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer who can help you seek the best legal outcome possible. You can reach Mr. Meehan to arrange a conference through the online form or by calling him at 508-822-6600.