Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Reviewing Board Upholds Death Benefits Awarded To Fatally Injured Employee’s Wife

In a recent Reviewing Board Decision, Harris vs. Plymouth County (BD. NO. 005307-06), the Reviewing Board looked at whether death benefits under Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws should have been awarded to the spouse of the deceased employee. The employee worked for a self-insured employer as a case-worker when he suffered work-related neck and back injuries. The injuries were sustained in the spring of 2006, and he died from acetylsalicylic acid toxicity caused by excessive aspirin ingestion four years later.

His wife sought dependency and burial benefits following his death, which were denied by the employer. The judge ordered the burial and funeral expenses to be paid but denied the death benefits. At the conference following the wife’s appeal, the wife argued that the employer’s failure to appeal the death benefits, which can only be awarded if the death is work-related, established the causal relationship for other benefits. The judge at this hearing agreed with the wife but looked more closely at whether she qualified as the employee’s dependent in whole or in part, and what amount of benefits was due.

The wife had been living separately at the time of the employee’s death, but they had only separated the month prior. The judge felt, based on the evidence, that the wife had been living apart for a justifiable cause and awarded her death benefits of $723.54 a week from the date of his death and continuing. The employer appealed the decision, but they focused on the judge’s refusal to allow them to litigate the question of whether or not the death was caused by the work-related injury. The employer’s appeal did not challenge whether the wife was a dependent at the time of the employee’s death.

The Reviewing Board agreed with the wife’s earlier argument that the burial and death benefits can only be awarded if there is a causal relationship between the employee’s injury and death. The Reviewing Board considered the employer’s position that the death benefits can be awarded without establishing a causal relationship, but the Board felt the intent behind the law is for all benefits to be paid for work-related injuries only. The Board pointed out that none of the statutes specify a work-related condition in the text of the statutes, and benefits were not meant to extend to any injury an employee has while employed, whether it was work-related or not. The Board affirmed the prior decision to award the death benefits to the wife. The focus of their decision was the employer’s failure to appeal or object to decisions made by the judges throughout the process.

The Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have over 30 years of experience working with those affected by work-related accidents. We understand the lengthy, complex process for filing claims, and we are here to help you maximize the benefits to which you are entitled. For a free, confidential consultation, call our office today at 508.822.6600.

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