Impartial Medical Expert’s Conflicting Testimony at Issue in Massachusetts § 34A Permanent Disability Benefits Case
An administrative law judge must admit additional medical evidence if an impartial medical expert contradicts his or her own prior testimony without explanation in a workers’ compensation disability case. In Lazaro Campos v. SMCS Trugreen Landcare, Board No. 029930-08, a landscaper injured his back while lifting a trailer at work. As a result of his injury, the man underwent back surgery and never returned to work. The man’s employer accepted liability for the worker’s harm and paid him § 34 total disability workers’ compensation benefits from the date of his workplace accident.
Approximately three years after the employee’s injury, an administrative law judge refused the employer’s request to reduce the amount of weekly benefits it paid to the man. Not long after that, the man filed a claim for § 34A permanent and total incapacity benefits. The employer responded by seeking to discontinue all workers’ compensation benefit payments.
At a hearing on the matter, the employer argued that the worker’s claim should be denied under §1(7A) because his disability was prolonged by a pre-existing condition. Next, the landscaper was examined by an impartial doctor, as required by the workers’ compensation statute. Since the man’s medical condition was complex, the judge allowed additional medical testimony that was recommended by the neutral doctor into evidence. After the impartial physician was deposed, the judge denied the worker’s repeated motions to admit his own expert’s medical opinion.
Ultimately, the judge stated she adopted the opinion of the neutral doctor and found that the workplace accident was a major cause of the worker’s present impairment. As a result, the judge awarded the landscaper permanent total disability benefits. Despite this, the judge also said the work incident was not necessarily the primary cause of the man’s disability. After that, the employer appealed the judge’s decision to the Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board.
On appeal, the Board agreed with the employer’s claim that the judge misinterpreted the impartial doctor’s opinion. In addition, the Board stated the physician’s medical opinion was “inherently contradictory” and “inadequate as a matter of law.” According to the Board, the neutral doctor contradicted her own testimony without considering additional evidence or offering any clarification as to why. The Board added that a workers’ compensation judge is not permitted to simply choose which contradictory medical evidence to adopt.
Since the impartial doctor’s testimony was not clear, nor was it unambiguous, the Board found that the judge should have granted the worker’s motion to submit additional medical evidence. As a result, the Board vacated the award and recommitted the case to the judge for consideration of the proposed supplementary expert medical evidence.
If you were injured at a Massachusetts workplace, you should discuss your right to recover workers’ compensation benefits with a skilled attorney. The reliable and hardworking lawyers at Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. are available to help you navigate the process of your worker’s compensation case. To speak with a knowledgeable Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney, do not hesitate to contact Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. online or give us a call at 800-367-0871.
Lazaro Campos v. SMCS Trugreen Landcare, Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board No. 029930-08 (July 30, 2014)