Workers’ Compensation Reviewing Board Affirms Physical and Psychiatric Disability Award to Injured Industrial Employee

Massachusetts workers’ compensation offers benefits for both physical and psychological injuries an employee suffers after an accident. By their nature, physical injuries are easier to connect to a workplace accident. Detailed proof and testimony must be offered by an injured person to show the workplace accident was the major factor in the psychological injury. A recent Massachusetts workers’ compensation action (Bd. No. 031456-05) offers a glimpse into which proof can be offered in a successful bid for workers’ compensation for a psychiatric injury.

In this lawsuit, the Reviewing Board assessed whether or not an employee should have been awarded both §§ 34 and 34A benefits. The employee suffered multiple fractures in her left foot after she slipped and fell in an industrial accident. Her employer agreed the foot injury was caused by a workplace accident and agreed to cover the initial costs related to her psychiatric issues stemming from the injury. The employee exhausted her § 35 and § 34 benefits after a fusion in 2006, followed by another in 2012 and a third in 2013. The second surgery seemed to provide some relief to her condition but did not resolve her pain or her difficulties walking on uneven surfaces. The third surgery did not do much to alleviate pain in her heel or the pain that had since developed in her knee. Since the accident, the injured person could not leave the house on cold days because it took her foot hours to feel warm, which then resulted in additional psychological tension. Because of the constant pain and inability to perform typical daily functions, the employee often felt sad, cried, and had fits of anger.

At the hearing, the administrative judge found the employee was permanently and totally disabled due to both the orthopedic and the psychological conditions. The employee was awarded § 34 and § 34A permanent and total incapacity benefits. The employer/self-insurer appealed the ruling, alleging the psychiatric disability should not have been tried at the hearing, since the issue had not been raised at the pre-trial conference. The Reviewing Board disagreed, pointing to the submissions and transcript of discussions before the hearing.

At the conference, the injured person submitted a Cover Form labeled “Foot & Psych – fall downstairs.” Within the report were several medical and psychiatric records that detailed the causal connection of the psychiatric disorder and the workplace injury. The parties had also previously stipulated that the case was accepted for both orthopedic and psychiatric conditions. The judge noted at conference that the lack of a report did not preclude the injured person from raising the issue at the hearing. The employer was given an opportunity to obtain and submit an Independent Medical Examination Report for the psychiatric injury, which was performed and submitted. The Reviewing Board pointed out that when the report was filed, and an impartial psychiatric physician was considered, the employer continued to acknowledge the psychiatric disability was to be considered.

The Board agreed they had previously held in Ruiz that an impartial physician’s opinion should not have been considered because it was outside the issues framed at the conference. The Board distinguished that case from the one at hand, in which both parties had raised, stipulated, and acknowledged the issue. The Board pointed to a prior ruling in Yeshaiau, which states the key is whether the award of benefits by a judge is determined by issues that had not been previously raised by the parties. If this occurs, there is no error in accepting all related evidence for consideration. The decision was affirmed, and the ruling in favor of benefits to the injured worker remained in place.

The Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan can help you with your claim for benefits. Call our office today at 508.822.6600.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Reviewing Board Looks at Mental Health Benefits, December 30, 2016, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog

Massachusetts Appeals Court Finds Son Cannot Receive Underinsured Motorist Benefits From Mother’s Policy, December 20, 2016, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog

Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Case Gives Insight on Social Security Disability Determinations, November 18, 2016, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog