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Employee Whose Disability Was Caused by Underlying Factors May Not Continue to Collect Workers’ Compensation Benefits Following Massachusetts Workplace Incident

Sometimes, a workplace injury can aggravate a worker’s underlying harm. That was apparently the situation in Robert Amaral v. Department of Youth Services, Board No. 008290-09. In the case, a man who primarily performed administrative duties for his employer was also called upon to physically restrain male youths when necessary. In April 2009, the employee was injured while attempting to break up an altercation between two teenagers. As a result, the worker suffered shoulder and lower back injuries, which both required surgery.

Prior to a workers’ compensation benefits hearing, the man was examined by an impartial physician pursuant to the provisions included in § 11A. The impartial doctor and the two surgeons who operated on the man were deposed in advance of the administrative hearing. In addition, the injured worker underwent an examination by a fourth physician at the request of his employer’s self-insurer. The fourth doctor’s report was also entered into evidence.

After reviewing the evidence, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held that the April 2009 workplace incident was the cause of the employee’s shoulder harm. Despite this, the ALJ found that the worker’s shoulder injury was no longer disabling to him. The ALJ also held that the employee suffered a back strain in the workplace incident that was unfortunately aggravated by underlying factors. She adopted the neutral physician’s view that the worker’s back strain had since been resolved. In addition, she also adopted the opinion of the self-insurer’s medical expert that the workplace incident was not the cause of the employee’s back-related disability. Because of this, the ALJ ruled that the workplace incident did not cause the man disabling back harm that required treatment. As a result of her findings, the ALJ performed a § 1(7A) analysis and determined that the injured worker was not entitled to receive benefits for his back harm as of the date of the self-insurer’s requested physical examination.

The employee appealed the ALJ’s decision to the Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board. According to the worker, the ALJ committed error when she adopted the position of the self-insurer’s medical expert because it was based on mere speculation. The Board was unpersuaded and stated the physician’s report was not speculative because it was based on his own physical examination of the worker.

Similarly, the Board disagreed with the employee’s assertion that the ALJ mischaracterized the impartial physician’s assessment of his back harm. According to the Board, the neutral doctor testified that the incident was not a major cause of the worker’s disability. Since the ALJ adopted the impartial doctor’s assessment, which effectively ruled out the workplace altercation as the cause of the man’s disability, the Board upheld the ALJ’s decision.

If you were hurt in a Massachusetts workplace accident, you may be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits. You should discuss your rights with a dedicated Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney who can evaluate your claim for benefits and effectively advocate on your behalf. For a free case evaluation, do not hesitate to contact the knowledgeable workers’ compensation lawyers at Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. through our website or give us a call today at 800-367-0871.

Additional Resources:

Robert Amaral v. Department of Youth Services, Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board No. 008290-09 (January 5, 2015)

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