Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Reviewing Board Reverses Denial of Psychiatric Injury Claim

Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws were enacted to provide a quicker route for injured workers to receive benefits, while shielding employers from time-consuming litigation. An injured worker does not have to prove negligence, just that he or she suffered an injury during the course of employment. Claims however, are not always granted by the workers’ compensation insurance, nor are they always awarded by the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ). Sometimes, in order to obtain benefits, an appeal must be filed to the Workers’ Compensation Reviewing Board.

Injured workers may be surprised to learn that they can also receive compensation if they have suffered from negative changes to their mental and emotional health. These are known as psychiatric injuries. They can form the basis of a claim alone, but they typically accompany a physical injury claim. Frequently claimed conditions include depression and anxiety.

An opinion was recently published by the Board that partially reversed a denial of benefits and recommitted the case for another look at the injured employee’s claim for permanent and total incapacity benefits. The injured worker suffered an industrial accident where he suffered injuries to his shoulder and psychiatric injury. The employer paid temporary total incapacity benefits until they were exhausted, but it filed to discontinue them when the injured worker filed for permanent total incapacity benefits.

During the claims process, the judge agreed with the employee’s testimony regarding his constant pain, limited movement, inability to work, and minimal relief from two shoulder surgeries. However, the judge denied the psychiatric injury claim, due to the prior history of the injured worker’s struggle with alcoholism. The worker appealed, arguing that the WCJ applied the wrong legal analysis in its determination. The injured worker’s witness opined that the industrial accident was the main reason for the worker’s depression and anxiety, and that it, combined with alcoholism, caused the worker to become nonfunctional.

The Board agreed that the WCJ applied the wrong analysis. Massachusetts statutes and case law have a high standard of proof for a purely psychiatric injury claim, but they allow for recovery even when there’s been a prior psychiatric condition when there’s a physical work-related injury. This is known as a “resultant condition,” and the fact-finder must assess whether the accident was the “major cause” of the psychiatric injury. Even though the WCJ denied benefits for the psychiatric injury, she did adopt the findings of the witness, a medical expert. With these adopted findings, the Board concluded that the psychiatric injury should also have been compensated.

The Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the experience you need to pursue your claim. Even with thorough documentation, it helps to have counsel at your side who know the law and what legal standards need to be applied to your case. Our lawyers understand the hardships that come with a devastating work injury, and we work tirelessly to maximize your benefits. For a free, confidential consultation, call us at 508.822.6600.

More Blog Posts:

Who Is Held Accountable for Operating Under the Influence Injuries Under Massachusetts Case Law?, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, November 24, 2014
Understanding the Complexities of Massachusetts Automobile Insurance Personal Injury Protection, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, November 17, 2014