Massachusetts Court Examines Workers’ Compensation Cost of Living Benefits

Pursuant to the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act, employers must provide certain benefits to employees hurt at work, including cost of living benefits. In some instances, employers can seek reimbursement for such benefits from the Workers’ Compensation Fund. While the laws providing the right to seek such benefits do not indicate a time frame for pursuing such benefits, they nonetheless must be sought in a timely manner, as demonstrated in a recent Massachusetts ruling. If you have questions about your rights with regard to workers’ compensation benefits, it is in your best interest to meet with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer at your earliest convenience.

History of the Case

Allegedly, the University sought reimbursement from the Workers’ Compensation Trust Fund (Fund) for cost-of-living adjustments benefits paid to five employees from July 1, 2005, through June 30, 2010. The Fund denied reimbursement for payments made more than two years before the University filed its claims, citing the department regulation. The University appealed, and the administrative judge sided with the Fund, while the board reversed, contending the two-year limitation served no rational purpose. Both the University and the Fund filed cross-appeals for judicial review.

Cost of Living Benefit Reimbursements in Workers’ Compensation Cases

Under General Laws c. 152, § 34B, insurers are entitled to quarterly reimbursements for cost of living adjustment benefits, with no specified time limit for filing reimbursement claims. On appeal, the court employed a two-part test, considered the language of the statute, and considered whether the regulation could be reconciled with the governing legislation.

While General Laws c. 152, § 34B mandates cost-of-living adjustments benefits without time limits, the court examined the absence of a specific time frame for reimbursement claims. The court rejected the University’s argument that the use of “shall” in § 34B(c) implied an unqualified right to reimbursement, considering additional restrictions in the statute tying reimbursement to the date of injury and employer participation in the Fund.

Instead, the court emphasized the link between § 34B(c) and G.L. c. 152, § 65, which outlines the Fund’s financing mechanism, concluding that the department has the authority to impose time restrictions. The court reasoned that the two-year limitation aligned with the statutory purpose, maintaining the Fund’s pay-as-you-go system and avoiding administrative burdens on participating employers.

Further, the legislative history, including a prior version of the regulation, supported the court’s view. Consequently, the court reversed the board’s decision, affirming the validity of the two-year limitations period for COLA reimbursement claims in this case.

Talk to a Trusted Massachusetts Attorney

Employers have a legal obligation to provide workers’ compensation benefits to employees who are hurt on the job, which in many instances includes cost of living adjustment benefits. If you sustained injuries while working, it is smart to talk to an attorney about your rights. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is a trusted Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer who can assess the facts surrounding your injury and help you to pursue any benefits you may be owed. You can reach Mr. Meehan to arrange a meeting through the online contact form by calling him at 508-822-6600.