Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Limits Liens On Workers’ Compensation Awards to Injured Electricians

In two recently released companion cases, DiCarlo v. Suffolk Construction (SJC-11854) and Martin v. Angelini Plastering, Inc. (SJC-11853), the Supreme Judicial Court reviewed whether or not liens could be placed on the recovery the injured worker receives that was paid to him or her in employee benefits. As discussed previously, the statute providing workers’ compensation benefits to injured employees exists so that the worker receives quicker payments for medical care and lost wages. Employers, by providing insurance under the law, are generally immune from suit so that the business’ time and resources are not spent defending personal injury actions. Injured workers, however, are allowed to sue at-fault third parties to recover damages incurred.

In these cases, two workers were injured during the course of their respective employments. Both men reached settlement agreements with third parties for damages, including pain and suffering, which were paid after they received workers’ compensation benefits provided by their employers’ insurer. Both cases involve the same insurer. One employee was an electrician who experienced ongoing physical and emotional suffering from a back injury. The other employee was also an electrician who suffered ongoing pain and mental anguish. Both filed suit against the construction site at which they worked, as well as contractors and subcontractors.

The insurer sought reimbursement under Massachusetts G. L. c. 152, § 15, which allows an employer to seek reimbursement if they covered costs for the employee even though another party was responsible for the employee’s injuries. In one case, the Superior Court Judge rejected a settlement offer that excluded the attachment of a lien to the pain and suffering damages, which made up 35% of the settlement. The judge in that case felt the lien attached to the whole recovery. In the other case, the opposite was true, and the judge allowed the settlement to go through, excluding any attachment to awards like pain and suffering, which was 30% of the settlement award. In this case, the insurer appealed. In the prior case, the injured employee appealed.

The appealing injured employee pointed to a 2011 Massachusetts Appeals Court decision that held that an insurer’s lien did not attach to damages for pain and suffering because workers’ compensation did not cover those items. The Appeals Court, for these cases, again determined that the portion of the award for pain and suffering was exempt from insurer’s liens under G. L. c. 152, § 15. The Supreme Judicial Court supported their assessment, determining that the “injury” in the “gross sum received in payment for the injury” portion of the statute should be construed narrowly to only mean an injury for which workers’ compensation benefits are payable. This excludes liens on any other type of award, including pain and suffering. The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the lower appellate court’s ruling, and both workers were able to keep the lien from attaching to the pain and suffering portions of their settlements.

The Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan work tirelessly to maximize the benefits you deserve. Insurers often seek to limit payments, and our lawyers know how to push back. For a free, confidential consultation, call 508.822.6600 to set up an appointment.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Supreme Court Ruling Allows Injured Couple to Keep Millions in Awarded Damages, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, September 28, 2015
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Affirms Multi-million Dollar Verdict in Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Suit, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, September 15, 2015