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Massachusetts Appellate Court Discusses Causation in Pre-Existing Back Injury Claim Dispute

If you work in a physically demanding job, your body handles a lot of wear and tear. This can lead to serious long-term work-related injuries. Fortunately, the workers’ compensation system in Massachusetts provides a way for injured workers to receive compensation for their lost wages and medical expenses related to the injury. When it comes to very physical occupations like construction, however, it is not uncommon for a worker to experience regular injuries that build up over time. At Mass Injury Group, our Boston workers’ compensation lawyers are standing by to assist you with ensuring that you receive the compensation you deserve after a painful work-related injury.

A Massachusetts appellate court recently issued an opinion in a case involving a construction worker with pre-existing injuries. The worker suffered a back injury that caused him to miss a year of work. Later, in 2014, he filed a claim for incapacity benefits as well as reimbursements for medical expenses when he was injured while moving 50-pound sandbags. Although he tried to go to work the next morning the pain was intense. The judge approved the claim and provided medical expenses to cover treatment including a possible surgery to address the injury.

The parties both filed an appeal finding the award unsatisfactory. An independent medical examiner was brought in to conduct a physical exam of the employee and to ascertain the cause and extent of his injuries. The parties were able to come to an agreement and the man underwent medical treatment for his injuries. Unfortunately, the treatments did not help. He sought additional benefits and the judge approved the claim. The insurer appealed the decision which required another independent medical examination. Based on this, the judge issued an opinion stating that the man suffered a work-related injury and that it was the major cause of his pain apart from his lower back injury.

The parties appealed again, and the court vacated the decision based on a finding that the lower court did not apply the proper causation standard when determining whether the pre-existing lower back injury was the primary cause of his pain. Under Massachusetts law, when an employee suffers from a pre-existing injury, he or she has a heightened duty to show that the work injury is the major cause, but not necessarily the predominant cause, of the new work-related disability. The party must prove this causal relationship through supporting medical opinion, which means that a doctor must usually be retained to testify on the party’s behalf.  This can be a difficult standard to interpret because reasonable minds can differ as to whether something constitutes a “major” cause.

If you were injured at work and suffer from pre-existing conditions, then it is critical to obtain the advice and guidance of a seasoned Boston workers’ compensation lawyer. The claims process can be very overwhelming and complex especially if you are also experiencing pain and suffering due to your injuries. At Mass Injury Group, we provide a free consultation to help you learn more about your potential right to recovery through the Massachusetts workers’ compensation system. Call the office now at 617-263-0060 or contact us online to get started.

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