Massachusetts Appellate Court Upholds Lower Court’s Reliance on Independent Medical Examination Report as Prima Facie Evidence

The workers’ compensation process is often a new and unfamiliar experience for most injured workers. Most people hope that they don’t need to obtain benefits and that they will spend the majority of their careers injury-free. When you do suffer injuries on the job, however, it is critical to understand how the process works so that you can maximize the amount of benefits and compensation that you receive. At the Law Offices of Michael O. Smith, our dedicated team of Boston workers’ compensation lawyers is ready to assist you.

Recently, a Massachusetts appellate court considered whether a judge properly relied on an independent medical examiner’s report in reaching a conclusion about an injured workers’ claim for benefits. The injured employee had been working for five years when he experienced an injury that impacted his right shoulder and thumb. He eventually returned to light duty work but eventually reported sharp pain in his shoulder that required medical treatment. He was unable to return to work and physical therapy did not provide any relief for his symptoms. He underwent a fusion surgery but continued to report lack of motion in his arm and hand, the inability to pick things up, and ongoing pain. The man indicated that he was unable to care for his minor children as a result of his injuries and that household chores were difficult. He did state, however, that he could likely perform light duty work on a full-time basis.

One of the most integral parts of the claims process is the independent medical examination where a neutral physician performs an exam and issues a report regarding the nature and extent of the work-related injuries and any pre-existing injuries. An independent medical examiner performed an evaluation of the injured man and concluded that the worker was reporting a higher level of pain than what a person experiencing his same injuries would likely report. The judge adopted the findings of the independent medical examination and denied the man’s claim for benefits finding that his shoulder injury was not a work-related injury. The judge also adopted the finding concluding that the man was exaggerating his level of pain and lack of mobility.

The man appealed challenging the judge’s reliance on the independent medical examination report, stating that the judge’s reliance on the findings allowed the examiner to make impermissible conclusions of law. The appellate rejected this argument and reviewed the rules regarding independent medical examinations. According to Massachusetts law, the reports produced from the exams are considered prima facie evidence and the judge is required to accept the findings of the report absent any evidence contradicting the contents or findings. The appellate court found no error in the judge’s reliance on the report because the examining physician relied on his own assessment of the employee and medical findings to conclude that there was no causal link between the shoulder injury and his occupational duties. Ultimately, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s order denying.

If you were hurt at work, you deserve compassionate and responsive legal counsel to help you understand the Massachusetts workers’ compensation system. Whether your injury is minor and will heal over time or more life-altering, we are standing by to assist you with ensuring that you are treated fairly and that you receive the outcome you deserve. To schedule your free consultation call us at 617-263-0060 or contact us online.

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