Massachusetts Court Explains Procedural Duties in Workers’ Compensation Claims

The Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act dictates that people who suffer work-related injuries can recover benefits for their medical expenses and lost wages from their employer. Further, people who suffer the loss of a loved one due to work-related harm can often recover benefits as well. If a party’s workers’ compensation claim is denied, they may be able to pursue civil claims for damages, but only if they comply with the procedural requirements, as demonstrated in a recent Massachusetts case. If you lost a loved one in a work accident, you should speak to a Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation attorney about your possible claims.

Facts and Procedure of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff’s decedent passed away after he suffered an injury when the forklift truck he was operating was overturned on the defendant employer’s premises. The plaintiff sought workers’ compensation benefits, but their claim was denied. The plaintiff then filed a civil complaint against the defendant, seeking punitive damages for gross negligence, wrongful death, and conscious pain and suffering of the decedent.

Allegedly, certain facts were undisputed, including that the decedent was employed by the defendant at the time of the accident, he did not reserve his rights under G.L. c. 152, § 24, and the accident occurred while he was performing his job duties. The identity of the defendant’s insurer was not disputed either. Following discovery, the defendant moved for summary judgment. The court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

Procedural Requirements Surrounding Workers’ Compensation Claims

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court’s ruling. In doing so, the court noted the plaintiff’s failure to initiate proceedings within the Department of Industrial Accidents upon receipt of the insurer’s denial of workers’ compensation benefits, as required by law. The court explained that the workers’ compensation insurer’s denial of benefits in response to the defendant’s first report of injury was not considered a proceeding within the Department of Industrial Accidents; as such, it was not grounds for the plaintiff invoking the doctrine of estoppel.

Referring to the principles of primary jurisdiction and exhaustion outlined in Lee v. International Data Group, the court stressed the importance of deferring to the Department of Industrial Accidents’ authority over issues within its purview. In other words, the court held that any dispute regarding whether the claimant’s injury arose out of and in the course of his employment should be resolved through the Department of Industrial Accidents.

Therefore, if the plaintiff’s decedent’s injury was deemed work-related, the plaintiff’s exclusive remedy lies within the workers’ compensation system, and the trial lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the case. As such, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Talk to an Assertive Massachusetts Attorney

Workers’ compensation laws generally require employers to provide coverage for employees injured on the job, regardless of fault. If you sustained a work-related injury, you have rights, and it is smart to talk to a lawyer. Attorney James K. Meehan is an assertive Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer who is adept at helping injured workers protect their interests, and if you hire him, he will diligently pursue any benefits you may be owed. You can reach Attorney Meehan at 508-822-6600 or through our convenient online contact form to arrange a confidential consultation.