Reviewing Board Holds Massachusetts Worker Not Entitled to Ongoing Benefits for Mental Disability that He Alleged was Caused by Work Events Ten Years Before

In a case before the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents, the Reviewing Board assessed an injured worker’s claim for § 34 or, alternatively, §34A benefits from March 30, 2012 forward.  Turning to previous decisions concerning the employee’s claim that he suffered mental injuries while working as a maintenance mechanic aide for his employer, the judge had found that while the employee was incapacitated from working, this incapacity as of March 30, 2012 had not been caused by a work accident in 2003 but was due to “non work related issues.” The Massachusetts Reviewing Board of Industrial Accidents affirmed this holding.

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In 2003, while working for his employer and performing housekeeping, mowing, and general maintenance, the employee alleged that he suffered verbal harassment from tenants.  He had been enforcing a non-smoking policy for his employer at the time. While he attempted to return to work, he had been diagnosed with anxiety and was unable to return to his position. The employee began to work in his own business, but that eventually failed.

Shortly afterward, the employee and his wife separated, and he moved from the family home. He was diagnosed with chronic depression, and according to one medical doctor, non-work events triggered a depression.  The judge found there had not been a causal connection between the employee’s condition and the history of his injury.

On appeal, the employee argued that non-work events had been caused by his work injury in 2003.  The Board stated that the employee acknowledged there had not been evidence or findings that his life activities after 2009 were caused by his 2003 injury.  Medical opinion could not support a finding of causation between work events in 2003 and life events after 2009.

First, the Board stated that the impartial physician had opined that there was no causal relationship between work events of 2003 and major life events after 2009.  The employee relied upon the judge’s adoption of the medical opinion that those life events after 2009 triggered a depression (caused by work) that had been present.  The Board stated that in essence, the employee argued that the work harassment played a role in his depression after March 30, 2012.

But the Board stated the standard for showing an employee’s disability was caused by verbal harassment is higher than it would be for showing a physical injury.  The main inquiry is whether the total disability has been caused by work-related events in 2003. On review, the Board stated that this was the only question – whether the employee’s present disability as of 2012 had been caused by the 2003 work injury.

The employee, according to the Board, did not argue this, nor did the medical opinion support this finding.  The doctor had in fact supported the judge’s finding that the employee’s mental disability, as of March 2012, was no longer causally connected to the 2003 work events.

Concluding that they need not address the remaining arguments, the Board stated that the employee had not met his burden of setting forth expert medical evidence supporting a finding that his psychological disability in 2012 was caused by the work injury 10 years before. They affirmed the judge’s decision in favor of the employer.

Workers’ compensation appeals can prove challenging for some injured individuals seeking benefits for work-related injuries. Legal standards can change, depending on the specific facts surrounding each claim.  At the Law Offices of Attorney Michael O. Smith, injured individuals receive legal representation for their claims. We offer a free consultation with a dedicated Boston workers’ compensation attorney. Call us today at (617) 263-0060.

More Blog Posts:

Discrepancy Between Employee’s Statements and Judge’s Findings Required Recommital of Case, According to Massachusetts Reviewing Board, Boston Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog, February 21, 2017

Maximum Partial Incapacity Benefits Awarded to Massachusetts Employee in Reviewing Board Decision, Based on Policy Considerations Not to Deny Benefits to Seriously Injured Workers, Boston Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog, October 27, 2016