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Massachusetts Widow Denied Workers’ Compensation Benefits Where Spouse’s Cause of Death Listed as Cardiovascular Disease

Under Massachusetts law, a surviving spouse or other close family member may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits following an employee’s workplace death. Still, the benefits that are available depend on the facts of each case. In Walsh v. Courier Corp., a Massachusetts machine and forklift operator collapsed at work in 2010. Unfortunately, the man was pronounced deceased at a local hospital about an hour after his shift ended. According to the man’s treating physician, the worker’s cause of death was hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

Soon afterward, the employee’s wife sought workers’ compensation benefits from the man’s employer. In her claim, the spouse invoked § 7A of the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act. This section states a workplace death is prima facie evidence that a claim falls under the provisions of the Act. The man’s employer argued that § 7A did not apply to the decedent’s case and denied liability based on the “combination injury” defense included in § 1(7A).

At a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), the spouse and several of the worker’s family members each testified about his working conditions. After that, the ALJ found none of the worker’s loved ones were told about job stresses or other risk factors prior to his death. Additionally, the ALJ ruled that the medical evidence offered at the hearing overcame the presumption included in § 7A and adopted the opinion that the worker’s death was caused by his underlying heart disease. She also specifically rejected the factual foundation on which one of the testifying doctors relied. As a result, the ALJ denied the spouse’s claim for benefits under §§ 13, 13A, 30, 31, 32, 33, 36, and 50.

On appeal before the Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board, the spouse claimed the ALJ committed error when she failed to discuss the medical opinion of one of the testifying physicians. The Board stated the opinion was admitted into evidence and considered by the ALJ. In addition, the facts on which the opinion relied were not those adopted by the judge. Because of this, the Board said the ALJ could not have adopted the doctor’s opinion regarding causation and did not commit error.

Likewise, the Board stated the ALJ did not err when she refused to adopt the causation opinions of certain lay witnesses called by the spouse. Since the ALJ’s findings of fact were supported by the record, the Board ruled that the judge’s decision regarding lay witness credibility was not grounds for reversal and affirmed the ALJ’s entire order.

If you were injured or lost a treasured loved one in a Boston workplace accident, you should contact the dedicated workers’ compensation lawyers at Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. Our experienced attorneys are available to help you recover the benefits you may be entitled to after suffering a work-related injury or loss. To discuss your rights under the Massachusetts workers’ compensation law in greater detail, give Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. a call today at 800-367-0871 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Walsh v. Courier Corp., Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board Decision No. 022425-10 (May 14, 2015)

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