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Massachusetts Employees Who Accept a Lump Sum Workers’ Compensation Settlement May Not Appeal Benefits Award Later

A Massachusetts employee who accepts a lump sum workers’ compensation settlement payment relinquishes his or her right to appeal a related benefits award. In Haris Duarte v. Travelers Insurance Company and Workers Compensation Trust Fund, Board Nos. 028934-06 & 037009-10, a materials handler hurt his left arm at work in September 2006. Following the injury, the man received workers’ compensation benefits for a closed period. At the time, the worker’s average weekly wage was nearly $400.

Between 2006 and 2010, the worker changed employers multiple times. Although he did not suffer another workplace accident, the man claimed that his prior injury hurt him often. About one month after the man began working as a general laborer at a stable, he again sought medical care for left arm pain. In December 2010, the employee did not return to work as a result of his severe shoulder and neck pain. At the time, his average weekly wage was about $265.

After the employee filed a new claim for benefits, his initial employer’s insurer moved to join in the case. According to the insurer, the man’s general laborer position caused a new injury. Since the stable did not carry workers’ compensation insurance at the time of the man’s claim, the insurer was joined as a defendant with the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Trust Fund (“WCTF”). Next, the WCTF raised several defenses to the employee’s claim and argued that § 35B should be applied to the case.

In February 2012, the worker was examined by a neutral doctor pursuant to § 11A, and the physician’s testimony was entered into evidence. Since the case was medically complex, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) presiding over the case agreed to allow the parties to submit additional medical evidence. Based on the opinion of three doctors, the ALJ found that the worker’s job duties at the stable exacerbated his pre-existing injury. The ALJ also said although the man was initially totally disabled, he was now capable of performing part-time work. As a result, the ALJ ordered the worker to receive § 34 total disability benefits from the date he stopped working through the date of his medical evaluation and ongoing § 35 benefits based on her finding that the man was capable of earning $64 dollars per week.

Next, the ALJ ordered both the insurer and the WCTF to pay a portion of the man’s total disability benefits. She also stated the insurer was responsible for the man’s remaining § 35 benefit payments. Based on the language included in § 35B, the ALJ found that the worker’s average weekly wage was $265. After the employee received a lump sum settlement payment from the insurer, he appealed the ALJ’s decision to the Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board.

On appeal, the worker claimed that the ALJ misapplied § 35B when she ordered his original employer’s insurer to pay him benefit payments based on a reduced average weekly wage. The Board refused to consider this claim, however, since the employee relinquished all rights against the company when he agreed to accept a lump sum settlement. For the same reason, the Board refused to consider the worker’s claim that the WCTF should have been ordered to pay him for a longer period of time. According to the Board, changing the ALJ’s order following the employee’s settlement would result in an illegal double recovery. In the end, the Reviewing Board affirmed the ALJ’s order.

If you aggravated a pre-existing condition at work in Massachusetts, you may be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits. The skillful lawyers at Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. are available to help you navigate the process of your worker’s compensation claim. To discuss your situation with a thoughtful Boston workers’ compensation attorney, contact the experienced lawyers at Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. online or give us a call at 800-367-0871.

Additional Resources:

Haris Duarte v. Travelers Insurance Company and Workers Compensation Trust Fund, Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board Nos. 028934-06 & 037009-10 (August 4, 2014)

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