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Massachusetts Reviewing Board Holds Hearing Judge Erred in Expanding the Parameters of a Workers’ Compensation Claim Beyond Disputed Issues

In workers’ compensation disputes it is common for the claimant and employer to agree on some issues and disagree on others. In a hearing to determine whether a claimant is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, only disputed issues should be considered and ruled upon by the hearing judge.

In Milton v. GT Advanced Technologies, the Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board found that an administrative judge improperly expanded the parameters of a workers’ compensation claim by evaluating undisputed issues, and overturned the judge’s findings.  If you were harmed in a work-related injury it is in your best interest to consult an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney to evaluate your case and any potential obstacles to your recovery of benefits.

Factual Scenario

The claimant was employed with the first employer from 2007 through 2012. He then left the first employer to work for the second employer. The claimant’s responsibilities in both positions required him to undertake physically strenuous work. In 2015, the claimant filed a claim against both employers seeking workers’ compensation benefits due to a lower back injury. Following a hearing on the matter, an administrative judge denied both claims. The claimant appealed and on appeal, the reviewing board agreed with the claimant and reversed the decision.

Parameters of Workers’ Compensation Disputes

The reviewing board noted that the administrative judge’s findings stated that the claimant alleged he sustained a lower back injury working for the first employer which was aggravated when he worked for the second employer. The judge’s findings also stated that he did not find any convincing testimony that the claimant suffered an industrial accident while working for either employer. The claimant argued that the judge committed an error in expanding the parameters of the dispute before him by stating there was no convincing evidence of an injury despite the fact that it was undisputed the claimant sustained an injury while working for the first employer. On review, the board agreed.

The board held that under Massachusetts workers’ compensation law, when parties set forth their claims and the defenses to the claims, they establish the boundaries of their dispute and that a judge who enlarges the dispute beyond those boundaries commits an error of law. The board further explained that allowing a judge to set forth rulings on issues that were not raised by either party could give way to violations of due process. Here, as the first employer did not argue that it was not liable for the claimant’s initial injury, it conceded the existence of the injury. Therefore, the board found that by referring to the claimant’s injury as alleged and ruling that no injury occurred, the judge improperly expanded the parameters of the dispute.

Reviewing Board Defines Basis for Overturning an Administrative Judge’s Credibility Findings

The claimant also questioned the judge’s credibility findings, due to the fact he did not set forth any reason for questioning the claimant’s credibility. The board noted that while credibility determinations were generally the purview of the judge, they can be overturned as arbitrary if they are not based on any evidence of record. In the subject case, as the judge’s credibility findings were based on the belief that the claimant’s undisputed injury did not occur, they were capricious, and therefore, his credibility findings were overturned as well.

Meet with a Skilled Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Attorney

If you were injured in a work-related accident, it is important to know what evidence may be presented against you. You should retain an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who will fight to preclude any improper issues from being evaluated at your hearing. The workers’ compensation attorneys of Karsner & Meehan work diligently to help injured workers in their pursuit of benefits. Contact our office at 508-822-6600 for a free and confidential meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board Rules Precise Wording is Not Necessary for an Expert Report to Adequately State No Injury Arose Out of Employment, November 21, 2018, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog

Reinsurer Required to Pay Workers’ Compensation Benefits if Employer Becomes Insolvent, July 16, 2018, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog

Massachusetts Appeals Court Looks at Exclusivity Provision in Workers’ Compensation Act, April 18, 2018, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog