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After being alarmed by the incidence of overdoses and deaths among people in the Massachusetts workers’ compensation system, an administrative judge for the Massachusetts Division of Industrial Accidents, Omar Hernandez, wanted to begin a program to help injured workers receiving treatment with opioids.  According to a news article, Boston workers who suffer injuries in the course and scope of employment, and have settled claims for benefits, may receive information on alternative treatments for their pain.  The program, which is voluntary, aims to reduce the use of opioids and other narcotics by working with care coordinators who can assist workers looking into medical treatment. The care coordinator is an intermediary between the injured worker and the insurance company, working to secure good alternative treatment options.

pillsThe program is used as a tool to change behaviors, which have been based on reducing the pain for injured workers in the short term by prescribing opioids.  Instead, by understanding the long-term effects, workers and insurance companies can work to discover opportunities for better care and less addiction.

All workers’ compensation cases are handled by judges within the state Department of Industrial Accidents. This agency is within the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. Judges within the Department of Industrial Accidents noted an increase in overdoses and deaths due to opioid addiction, and they hoped the pilot would resolve cases swiftly, as a tool to fight an opioid epidemic.

Recently, the Massachusetts Reviewing Board for Industrial Accidents reassigned a case for further findings of fact after determining that the judge had adopted inconsistent medical evidence and had mischaracterized the evidence in support of his findings.  In this case involving an employee with a preexisting medical condition, the Board stated the rule that when combined with a pre-existing injury, pure emotional or mental stress injuries carry a heightened standard of “predominant contributing cause,” as set forth in § 1(7A) of Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws. The Board assessed the record and the nature of the claim brought by the employee in order to determine whether the predominant contributing cause standard applied.

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The facts indicate that the injured worker in the underlying claim for benefits worked as a long-term employee for the Department of Corrections, as a chaplain at the hospital. After a service in the hospital chapel, a resident in a wheelchair approached a group in conversation with the employee.  From his seated position, the resident lunged and swung at the employee, striking him in the face.  The employee then pushed over the wheelchair, and the resident fell out of the chair onto the floor.  The employee’s conduct was investigated and led to disciplinary action.

The employee suffered from pre-existing mental health issues, which when combined with the injury, triggered  G. L. c. 152, § 1(7A).  The Board stated it was difficult, from the record, to determine the precise nature of his pending claim before the judge.  The judge noted the employee sought  § 34 benefits “for temporary total incapacity,” as well as §§ 13 and 30 medical benefits “for psychiatric injury.”  But the judge did not clarify whether the employee had claimed a physical injury with a disabling psychiatric sequela and need for psychiatric treatment, or an emotional stress or pure mental injury.

All employees are entitled to a workplace free from hazards and dangers.  When workers in the Boston area suffer injuries, they are entitled to file a Boston workers’ compensation claim according to Massachusetts law.  Workers’ compensation provides employees with medical care, partial wage replacement, and benefits for injuries or medical conditions suffered in the course and scope of their employment.  Additionally, federal and state laws ensure that employers provide a safe workplace that meets safety regulations and standards.

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OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has recently issued a press release detailing the results of an investigation that determined Boston, Massachusetts behavioral health facility employees had been exposed to serious workplace hazards. The health facility faces $207,690 in proposed penalties from the U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA for the violations, which were exposed during follow-up inspections.

In June 2017, OSHA had issued the facility a notification based on their failure to stop exposing employees to workplace violence.  This included physical as well as verbal assaults, kicks, bites, scratches, and hair pulling.  The notification made clear that the employer’s workplace violence prevention program had not adequately addressed the hazards posed by the patients’ verbal and physical assaults.  Specifically, employees were kicked in the stomach by patients, scratched, and punched, and in one case, a Nursing Supervisor suffered a concussion that resulted in her losing 15 days of work.

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Massachusetts workers’ compensation is designed to help employees who suffer from work-related injuries or medical conditions.  The Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents, Reviewing Board, addressed benefits available to the spouse of a deceased worker.  An administrative judge had awarded the claimant (the spouse) burial benefits but denied her claim for dependency benefits. On appeal, the Board was to analyze whether the insurer had, through its failure to appeal the award of burial benefits, recognized that the worker’s death was caused by work.

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After suffering back and neck injuries at work, the employee in this case had received workers’ compensation benefits until the date of his death.  He died from excessive aspirin ingestion.  The employee was married but living apart from his spouse at the time of his death.

Since Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws provide for benefits to the spouse of a fatally injured worker, the claimant filed for benefits.  The insurer for the employer contended that she was not entitled to burial or funeral expenses, but the judge awarded her those benefits, while denying her claim for dependency benefits. She appealed.

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) affects workers throughout Boston and the surrounding communities.  Employees who have received a medical diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome can file a workers’ compensation claim for benefits, since this type of injury is covered by the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA). It is important for workers to understand that they maintain a legal right to file a claim and may be entitled to recover benefits and compensation for their work-related carpal tunnel syndrome.  A Boston workers’ compensation attorney can help ensure that timelines are met and that a claim for benefits is presented in a strong manner.

carpal tunnel syndrome

According to the WCA, an “injury” includes physical injuries as well as diseases or illnesses that are caused by the worker’s employment.  Carpal tunnel syndrome falls under this category, as do other work-related illnesses, potentially work-related asthma, for example. The National Institute of Health makes clear that carpal tunnel syndrome affects the median nerve, the long nerve that runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand.  This nerve becomes squeezed or pressed at the wrist, and the carpal tunnel, the passageway that houses the nerve, can narrow and cause the nerve to be compressed. Irritated tendons are often the culprit behind a narrowed tunnel.  Symptoms can include weakness, pain in the wrist or hand, and numbness.

Carpal tunnel syndrome can have many different causes, and it often results from a combination of causes, such as fluid retention, wrist trauma, or repetitive motion.  Those with diabetes may be more susceptible to compression and to suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. Workers who engage in assembly line work, including sewing, finishing, meat packing, and manufacturing, may be more at risk of developing CTS.

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In a recent appeal involving a dispute over an injured employee’s weekly wage, the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents, Reviewing Board, held that since the employee had not appealed a conference order, he was not entitled to a better result than what he had received in that order.   The Board examined whether the judge had properly adjusted the employee’s award upward, without an appeal by the employee.

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In this case, the employee worked as a carpenter and was injured at work when moving a large piece of machinery that tipped.  His claim for benefits was granted, since there was not a dispute regarding his coverage under workers’ compensation, nor was there a dispute regarding liability for his injury.  After the insurer for his employer began paying weekly benefits, based on a weekly wage of $800.00 a week, the employee then sought an adjustment to his wage.

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The Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents, Review Board, recently analyzed whether an employee could receive workers’ compensation for injuries sustained while driving home from a nursing job.  According to the “going and coming” rule, employees who are traveling to and from work are barred from recovering compensation for their injuries.  In the case before the Board, the workers’ compensation insurance company argued that the employee had a fixed place of business, and she had been merely commuting home.

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The Board turned to caselaw to determine whether the facts supported a finding that the employee could recover benefits.  In this case, the 71-year-old employee worked as a nurse of the employer.  The employer assigned her to work at a facility in Vermont, while the employee lived in Danvers.  She would travel to Vermont at the start of the work week and return home after her shift ended, five days later.

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Following a workplace accident, injured employees have the right to file a workers’ compensation claim for benefits.  The Reviewing Board for the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents recently assessed whether an employee was entitled to costs for a total hip replacement after suffering injuries in a work-related accident.  At issue in the case was whether the judge had erred when he found that the medical issues were not complex, and therefore there was no need for additional medical evidence.

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The employee worked for over 30 years for the same company, first as a machine operator and then as an x-ray technician. An accident occurred at work, and the employee received a double knee surgery. During his period of recovery, the employer paid weekly indemnity benefits.

After filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits that alleged his left total hip replacement was caused by the work injury, an administrative judge rejected the claim, and the employee appealed.  The employee was examined by an impartial physician.

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In a recent case before the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the issue was whether an employee should receive interest on hiscalculator unpaid claim for benefits as of the date of filing the claim that eventually led to an award, or whether the filing date for an earlier claim that was eventually terminated should serve as the date that interest would begin to accrue.

Massachusetts law holds that interest is to be assessed on unpaid workers’ compensation claims as of the date the Department of Industrial Accidents receives notice of the claim.  The statute dictates that when payment for an award of benefits is not made within 60 days of being claimed by an employee, interest accrues on sums due.

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In a decision addressing the successive insurer rule in workers’ compensation cases, the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents, Review Board, recommitted a case in which the judge had erred by holding that an employee had not suffered an injury to her right shoulder while working for her most recent empemergency roomloyer. The Board held that the judge inappropriately substituted his own opinion for that of the medical examiner and mischaracterized that opinion so that he would not have to abide by the legal effect. In other words, since the employee’s shoulder injury was worsened while working for the second employer, that employer was required to compensate her, according to the successive insurer rule.

According to the successive insurer rule, employers must pay compensation to employees who suffer a worsening of an injury caused while working for a previous employer.  Before working for her most recent employer, in October 2007, the employee suffered injuries to her shoulder and right knee. She had fallen down a flight of stairs and was paid weekly total incapacity benefits through March 2008.

The employee had undergone shoulder surgery and in December 2012 secured a lump sum settlement agreement with her first employer for medical treatment and benefits. Liability had been settled regarding injuries to her left shoulder and a sprain/strain to her right shoulder.

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