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Reviewing Board Finds Doctrine of Issue Preclusion Applies in Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Case

In Massachusetts and across the United States, the same legal issue may not be litigated twice. In Wentworth v. Country Hen, a route delivery person apparently injured his arm and his neck while delivering eggs in June 2005. Although the worker finished his deliveries at the time, he did not return to work after the date of his harm. The following month, the employee sought § 34 total incapacity workers’ compensation benefits.

In response, the worker’s employer disputed liability, the man’s disability, the causal relationship to work, and other issues. Despite this, an administrative judge awarded the worker § 34 benefits for July 2005 through August 2005 and § 35 partial incapacity benefits beginning on August 10, 2005. Neither the worker nor the employer appealed the judge’s order.

Next, the worker filed a second claim for § 34 benefits beginning on the date of his workplace accident and requested compensation for psychiatric care. The man’s employer again denied his claim. Following another hearing before the same administrative judge, the employee’s claims were denied. The worker then appealed the decision, and the parties ultimately entered into an approved Agreement to Pay Compensation.

After that, the employee filed a third workers’ compensation claim related to his workplace accident and joined another request for psychiatric benefits. The parties then entered into an approved settlement agreement regarding medical payments made to the worker’s psychiatrist. About six months later, an administrative judge denied the man’s incapacity claim and rejected a § 11A impartial doctor’s opinion that the employee’s psychiatric issues were only temporally related to his workplace harm. Additionally, the judge made note of the fact that the employee had failed to undergo an MRI that was prescribed in order to aid in his treatment. The employee then appealed the judge’s decision to the Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board.

On appeal, the worker claimed the administrative judge mischaracterized the physician’s testimony and acted irrationally when he dismissed the neutral doctor’s opinion. The worker argued the judge’s reliance on the worker’s failure to undergo an MRI was misplaced. The Board affirmed the administrative judge’s order, and the worker filed an appeal with the Appeals Court of Massachusetts.

While the man’s appeal was being considered, the worker filed another request for benefits beginning on the date the record was closed. The insurer argued res judicata required the claim to be dismissed. The employee countered that his new disability claim was based on the combination of his 2005 neck injury and resulting psychiatric harm. After finding the worker failed to establish that his physical condition changed since the record was previously closed, the administrative judge ruled that the employee’s request was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Essentially, the judge stated the employee was not allowed to litigate the same claim twice.

Not long afterward, the worker filed another appeal with the Reviewing Board. On appeal, the worker argued his employer’s liability for his psychiatric claim was previously established. The Board disagreed and stated the judge correctly ruled there was no basis on which to determine a causal relationship between the workplace accident and the man’s resulting psychological harm. Since the Appeals Court affirmed the decision, the board found that the judge’s order was binding due to the doctrine of issue preclusion.

The Board went on to find that the only psychiatric conditions precluded were those the worker did or could have raised in his previous claims. Since the administrative judge failed to issue any findings of fact regarding which psychiatric issues he deemed precluded, the Board recommitted the case for additional consideration regarding the psychological conditions alleged in the man’s claim.

If you were injured at work in Boston, you should discuss your rights with the knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorneys at Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. Our skillful lawyers are here to help you recover the benefits you may be entitled to following a work-related accident. To speak with a dedicated Massachusetts workers’ compensation advocate about your situation, give Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. a call today at 800-367-0871 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Wentworth v. Country Hen, Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board Decision No. 021016-05 (May 29, 2015)

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