Interest Does not Accrue for Employee who Filed an Earlier, Unresolved, but Related Workers’ Compensation Claim, According to Massachusetts Court

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.

In the appeal, the employee argued that he should have been awarded interest as of the date he first filed a claim relating to a second work-related injury that he had suffered. This claim was filed in 1996 and was never finally adjudicated but eventually terminated. In 2010, the employee had again filed a claim for benefits, and he was eventually awarded permanent and total incapacity benefits. The Department of Industrial Accidents, Review Board, awarded benefits as of the date he filed this most recent claim.

The issue before the court of appeal was whether the Board properly held that “claim,” according to Massachusetts law, refers to the formal filing of a claim, and interest only accrues on claims that eventually lead to an award of benefits. In their analysis, the court made clear employees are not entitled to interest simply by filing a claim. Only if an award of unpaid benefits is made in the employee’s favor will interest accrue. The date of filing a notice of a claim “merely supplies” the date from which interest can be calculated if the employee is awarded unpaid benefits.

Here, the employee’s claim that was filed in 1996 did not result in the adjudication of an award of benefits.  Therefore, the court stated, the employee was not entitled to interest.  After turning to the language of the statute, the court stated that it is clear interest should accrue based on a single claim filed at a single point in time. In fact, interest accrues, according to the statute, on the claim underlying the order awarding unpaid benefits.

While recognizing that the Workers’ Compensation Act must be construed broadly, the court stated that to separate the order from the claim would be contrary to the language of the statute.  The court noted that their interpretation of the statute was consistent with decisions in other cases. In this case, the court stated that the employee’s initial claim was made in 1996, and he had been deprived of benefits for years. But, since he terminated this claim, it did not lead to an order awarding unpaid benefits. As a result,  § 50 did not apply to the original claim.

Finally, the court stated that abiding by the plain and ordinary meaning of a statute is necessary, such that the language is not enlarged or limited, unless its plain meaning and its object requires it.

The Court affirmed the decision of the Board.

At the Law Offices of Attorney Michael O. Smith, we advocate for workers injured in a job site accident or suffering from a work-related medical condition.  To understand your legal rights and potential compensation for injuries and lost wages from work, contact an experienced Boston workers’ compensation attorney. We provide a free consultation and can be reached at (617) 263-0060.

More Blog Posts:

Reduced Worker’s Benefits Award Addressed and Rectified Earlier Omission by Judge; Massachusetts Appellate Court Upholds Decision, Boston Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog, March 2, 2017

Judge Made Inconsistent Findings Regarding Employee’s Psychological Harm; Massachusetts Reviewing Board Finds Errors Were not Harmless, Boston Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog, December 14, 2016