Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Reviewing Board Looks at Incapacity Benefits Awarded to HVAC Technician

When a worker is injured, it is not always clear whether his or her current medical conditions and injuries happened because of the workplace or from life outside the workplace. To determine whether or not certain benefits should apply, administrative judges consider medical evidence and expert testimony from treating and reviewing physicians. In Bennett vs. Northeastern University (Board No. 038550-08), a self-insurer/employer appealed a decision in favor of an HVAC technician who was awarded temporary total incapacity benefits, followed by permanent and total incapacity benefits.

The injured employee worked as an HVAC foreman and later as an HVAC technician at a university. The employee originally claimed he suffered from a pulmonary injury arising out of his job, due to exposure to chemicals used by other workers stripping the floors in a locker room, as well as exposure to chemicals, solvents, dust, and fumes he was naturally exposed to in his own work as an HVAC technician. The judge at the original hearing heard from the injured employee’s primary care physician and treating pulmonologists. The judge also heard from the independent medical examiner used in accordance with these proceedings.

After hearing the testimony and reviewing the evidence, the judge found that the employee required medical treatment for breathing issues as a result of his exposure to the stripping materials. The judge noted that these substances aggravated a pre-existing breathing condition and that he will likely be unable to perform any HVAC work again in the future. Since the employer did not raise any issues with causality, the judge relied on the employee’s witnesses, since he only needed to prove “as is” causation. The employer objected to this assessment, arguing that the employee did not prove the employer’s liability for a work-related injury, that the condition was caused by the workplace, nor that he was truly disabled and incapacitated. The employer pointed to the failure of the judge to resolve factual conflicts in the testimony related to the employee’s proximity to the location where the floor stripping was performed, the day the employee fell ill, and the day the employee left work.

The Reviewing Board agreed with the employer, also finding that the judge did not adequately address the conflicts in the evidence and had no specific findings about the date of exposure. Since the injured employee did not provide enough proof for any reviewing party to use, the Reviewing Board declined to send the case back to the judge for reassessment and a new set of findings. The board also agreed with the employer that the testifying physician for the injured employee did not connect enough of her analysis of the employee’s aggravated asthma to the description in the evidence of the chemicals used in the stripping to show causality. The Reviewing Board reversed the judge’s decision awarding benefits and dismissed the employee’s claim.

This case highlights the complexities of workers’ compensation cases and the need to connect the proof together for a solid award of benefits. The Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the experience you need to fully litigate your claim. For a consultation, call our office at 508.822.6600.

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