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Massachusetts Appellate Court Identifies Error with Lower Court’s Application of the Pre-Existing Injury Doctrine in Construction Worker’s Benefit Claim Dispute

Construction workers have an incredibly physical job, so it is no surprise that they experience job-related injuries on a regular basis. It is also not surprising for a construction worker to suffer numerous injuries on the job during the course of his or her career. Although each injury is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, repeated injuries to the same area of the body can create issues when it comes to proving causation in future claims. Under the Massachusetts workers’ compensation system, a work-related injury involving a pre-existing injury requires a showing that the new injury is the substantial cause of the worker’s need for benefits. At Mass Injury Group, our experienced team of Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys is prepared to help you ensure that you receive the fair treatment and outcome that you deserve after suffering a work-related accident.

A recent workers’ compensation claim dispute in Massachusetts highlights this issue. The construction worker in the claim suffered several injuries during his long career including a back injury that forced him to be out of work for a year. Some years later, he was moving 50-pound sandbags when he experienced an injury to his back. He also experienced right shoulder pain and was not able to go to work after the injury happened. He sought workers’ compensation benefits for the injury in 2014 as well as reimbursements for related medical expenses. The insurance company for his employer challenged the award of benefits.

The man underwent an examination with an independent medical examiner and the parties resolved the dispute about whether he was entitled to benefits. He received several medical treatments to try to resolve his pain, but they did not work. He filed another claim for benefits to address the long-term pain that he was experiencing. After another examination with an independent medical examiner and a hearing, the judge concluded that the primary cause of his pain and other symptoms was the second lower-back injury and not his original back injury. The insurer appealed again, and the reviewing court concluded that the lower court did not use the right standard to determine whether the new injury or the pre-existing injury was the major cause of the request for benefits.

More specifically, the judge incorrectly used the “major cause” theory to evaluate whether the pre-existing injury was implicated in the new injury. This resulted in the judge failing to give adequate weight to evidence regarding the new injury such as the worker’s inability to perform his regular job duties due to the pain that he was experiencing. As a result of this finding, the court vacated the award of benefits and remanded the case for additional proceedings to correctly determine the extent to which the pre-existing injury was involved in the latest claim for benefits.

If you are dealing with a work-related injury, you may eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. If this is your first time navigating the system, then it is a good idea to speak to a seasoned Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer so that you understand what to expect and how the lawyer can assist you. If this is not your first time, then it is even more important to have an experienced work injury lawyer at your side to ensure that the rules regarding pre-existing injuries are applied to your situation fairly. To schedule your free consultation contact us today at 617-263-0060 or contact us online to get started.

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