Massachusetts Appellate Court Concludes Lower Court Failed to Perform Complete Work Capacity Analysis

When you suffer an on-the-job injury, you can file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits to provide you with income and reimbursement for your medical expenses. This can be a lengthy process, especially if your injury is complex or if it involves pre-existing medical conditions. There are many different steps that you must complete before you will receive a benefits award, including a determination of whether you have reached maximum medical improvement. If you do reach maximum medical improvement but you are unable to return to the same job duties and activities, then the analysis asks whether you are able to find meaningful work in the same field or another field for which you have experience and training. As dedicated Boston work injury lawyers, our seasoned team of legal professionals is standing by to help you protect your right to benefits.

A recent appeal involved an injured nurse and a determination of whether she could seek employment in a new field. The nurse was injured in 2016 when she felt immediate pain in her lower back while lifting a patient. Following the injury, she was not able to return to the same level of physical duties. Instead, she worked in a light duty clerical position with reduced hours for the same employer. Despite the reduced workload, she still reported experiencing pain requiring her to stay home from work.

The nurse filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits and received a temporary award of $937.69 per week based on an average weekly wage calculation of $1,622.82 in addition to a second award that calculated a weekly wage based on the nurse’s actual weekly wages instead of an average. The insurance company for the employer appealed the award.

The nurse underwent an exam from an independent medical examiner. According to the examiner’s report, the nurse had reached a point of maximum medical improvement, which means that her condition would probably not improve with additional treatment and therapies. At a hearing about the insurer’s appeal, the nurse testified that she felt limited in her physical abilities and that she still experienced pain. The judge deemed this testimony credible and adopted the examiner’s report and findings.

The insurer filed another appeal on the basis that the judge made an error when evaluating the nurse’s earning capacity. The appellate court first noted that there was enough evidence in the record to support a finding that the nurse reached maximum medical improvement and that she was disabled as a result of her injury. When it came to the nurse’s work capacity, however, the appellate court found an error. It concluded that the nurse only testified about her attempts to find another nursing job and that the lower court should have explored her ability to find a job in another field. The judge did not include any information in the statement of decision about whether this had been considered, making it necessary to remand the case for further proceedings.

An on-the-job injury can be devastating, painful, and incredibly disruptive for the victim especially if he or she has to find a new line of work. At the Law Office of Michael O. Smith, our workers’ compensation lawyers have seen firsthand how much of a nightmare this situation can be. We provide a free consultation to help you start learning about your rights and legal options and to discuss whether we can help you. Call us now at 617-263-0060 or contact us online to get started.