Massachusetts Court Explains Grounds for a Workers’ Compensation Appeal

The Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) affords employees injured in the course and scope of their work the right to recover workers’ compensation benefits. It is not uncommon for employers to deny claims for workers’ compensation benefits, however. Fortunately, the law permits employees whose workers’ compensation claims have been denied to seek a review of the decision via an appellate process. If they pursue an appeal without justification, however, their actions may have negative consequences, as discussed in a recent Massachusetts opinion. If you were hurt at work, you could be owed workers’ compensation benefits, and it is advisable to consult a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney to determine your potential claims.

Procedural History of the Case

It is alleged that a fee dispute arose between attorneys who represented the employee in connection with a workers’ compensation claim before the Department of Industrial Accidents. The employee and the insurer entered into a lump sum settlement agreement in which the insurer agreed to pay the employee $50,000; approximately $16,000 of the award was set aside for costs and attorney’s fees.

It is reported that the two attorneys that represented the employee could not resolve how the attorney’s fees should be divided between them and filed a third-party claim with an administrative judge. The first attorney moved for recusal of the judge, claiming bias. The judge denied the motion and ordered the insurer to release the funds to the attorneys. The first attorney appealed, again claiming bias. The review board affirmed the decision and held that the appeal lacked reasonable grounds and that there was no justification for the attorney’s conduct. It subsequently ordered the first attorney to pay the second attorney the cost of the appellate proceeding. The first attorney once again appealed.

Consequences of Appealing a Workers’ Compensation Decision without Justification

On appeal, the court addressed the narrow issue of whether the determination that the first attorney’s appeal lacked reasonable grounds was a sufficient basis was sufficient cause for ordering the first attorney to pay the second attorney the cost of the proceeding under Massachusetts law.

The court explained that pursuant to the Act, if an administrative judge determines that an employee or their attorney brought or defended proceedings without reasonable grounds, the judge is required to assess the entire cost of the proceeding against the employee or their attorney, whoever is responsible. In the subject case, the court found that it was indisputable that the first attorney lacked reasonable grounds in pursuing his appeal. Thus, the court affirmed the reviewing board’s decision.

Talk to a Dedicated Massachusetts Attorney

Employers do not always pay their injured employees the benefits they are owed, but the workers’ compensation appeals process protects employees from unjust denials. If you were hurt while working, you have the right to seek benefits from your employer, and you should talk to an attorney. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is a dedicated Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney who can assess the circumstances surrounding your harm and aid you in seeking the maximum benefits recoverable under the law. You can reach out to Mr. Meehan by using the form online or by calling him at 508-822-6600 to set up a conference.