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Workers’ Compensation Reviewing Board Finds Judge Committed Error in Massachusetts Employee Benefits Case

In Brian LaFleur v. M.C.I. Shirley, the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board recommitted a workers’ compensation case to an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) for further findings of fact with regard to the effect a worker’s 1998 knee injury had on his 2008 workplace accident harm under § 1(7A). After the ALJ issued his findings, the worker’s employer filed an appeal over the judge’s decision. The employer argued the ALJ violated its due process rights, committed error when he conducted a status conference off the record, exhibited bias against the employer, exceeded the scope of the Board’s recommittal order, and inappropriately prejudged the employee’s prospective § 34A benefits claim.

According to the Board, an ALJ only possesses those powers set forth in Chapter 152. Since no additional authority was conferred on the ALJ, the Board held that he exceeded his authority when he took action beyond those issues recommitted to him. Similarly, the Board said the judge committed error when he conducted a status conference off the record because all significant workers’ compensation proceedings must be transcribed in order to preserve the record for any potential appeals. The Board said to do otherwise prevents meaningful appellate review and impairs the appearance of ALJ impartiality.

Next, the Board addressed the employer’s claim that the judge disregarded its recommittal order. The Board stated it directed the ALJ to address whether the worker’s 1998 injury contributed to his current medical condition and told the employer to pursue the “sufficiency of the judge’s vocational analysis further.” Rather than addressing the § 1(7A) pre-existing condition issue, the ALJ instead revisited his major causation analysis over the employer’s objection even though the Board previously addressed and affirmed the judge’s earlier decision on the issue. As a result, the Board found the ALJ’s recommittal decision to be “arbitrary and capricious in its disregard for the order of recommittal.”

After that, the Board agreed with the employer’s assertion that the ALJ inappropriately addressed the employee’s prospective § 34A total incapacity benefits claim because the matter was premature and not properly before him. Finally, the Board reversed the ALJ’s order and recommitted the worker’s case to another administrative judge due to the ALJ’s apparent lack of impartiality.

If you were injured at work in the Boston area, you should contact the knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorneys at Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. Our skilled lawyers are available to help you recover the benefits you may be entitled to following a workplace accident. To discuss your rights under the Massachusetts workers’ compensation law in greater detail, call Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. at 800-367-0871 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Brian LaFleur v. M.C.I. Shirley, Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board Decision No. 009526-08 (May 6, 2015)

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