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Employee Receives Total Incapacity Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Massachusetts Workplace Accident Despite Suffering Non-Compensable Pre-Existing Injury

Depending on the circumstances, a pre-existing injury can limit a Massachusetts employee’s right to recover workers’ compensation benefits. In David Corazzini v. Diamond Chevrolet, Board No. 025919-09, a man was employed as a salesperson for an automobile dealership. In addition to his sales duties, the worker was responsible for maintaining the property and snow removal. In January 2009, the employee was apparently injured in a fall while exiting a snow plow. More than one month later, the worker sought treatment for his neck injury at a local hospital. Despite his harm, the man continued to work for his employer until October 2009.

After leaving his sales position, the employee sought workers’ compensation benefits for his neck injury and related back pain. The car dealership responded by stating the business was not liable for the employee’s injuries because the work incident was not the sole cause of the man’s resulting pain. After that, the man was examined by an impartial physician pursuant to § 11A. Prior to a hearing on the matter, the employer and the worker both submitted additional medical evidence to an administrative law judge for review.

Following a workers’ compensation hearing, the judge adopted the opinions of the neutral doctor and the employer’s medical expert. After stating that he believed the worker was completely incapacitated by his pain, the judge ruled that his back condition was not work-related. Still, the judge awarded the employee §§ 13, 30, and 34 workers’ compensation medical and financial benefits for his neck harm. In response, the employee filed an appeal with the Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board. The employer also appealed the judge’s finding that the employee was totally incapacitated.

On appeal, the worker argued the judge committed error when he adopted the opinion of the neutral doctor stating his back injury was not work-related. Although the physician testified that the worker’s neck harm aggravated his pre-existing back injury, the physician stated the man’s symptoms did not demonstrate that the employee suffered a work-related back injury. According to the worker, the doctor’s testimony that his workplace injury exacerbated his pre-existing harm necessarily demonstrated that his incapacitating back harm was work-related. The Board found that the judge’s ruling was proper because the medical expert’s testimony did not support a finding that the worker’s compensable harm was a chief cause of his back pain.

The Board then turned to the employer’s claim that the judge’s holding was not supported by the medical evidence.  According to the employer, the medical testimony offered only supported a finding of partial disability. The Board disagreed and stated the judge had the authority to credit the worker’s testimony regarding his impairment in his analysis. Additionally, the Board found it significant that the judge specifically referenced certain medical evidence in his written opinion. Finally, the Board held that other evidence offered at the hearing supported the judge’s finding that the employee was totally incapacitated by his neck injury.

In the end, the Board affirmed the administrative law judge’s ruling and ordered the employer to pay the disabled worker’s legal costs.

If a Boston workplace accident aggravated your pre-existing injury, you should discuss your right to recover workers’ compensation benefits with a quality lawyer. The seasoned attorneys at Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. are here to help you navigate the process of your worker’s compensation case. To speak with an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer, contact Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. online or give us a call at 800-367-0871.

Additional Resources:

David Corazzini v. Diamond Chevrolet, Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board No. 025919-09 (April 15, 2014)

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