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Massachusetts Review Board Reassigns Case After Judge Adopted Inconsistent Medical Evidence and Mischaracterized Evidence in Support of Findings

Recently, the Massachusetts Reviewing Board for Industrial Accidents reassigned a case for further findings of fact after determining that the judge had adopted inconsistent medical evidence and had mischaracterized the evidence in support of his findings.  In this case involving an employee with a preexisting medical condition, the Board stated the rule that when combined with a pre-existing injury, pure emotional or mental stress injuries carry a heightened standard of “predominant contributing cause,” as set forth in § 1(7A) of Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws. The Board assessed the record and the nature of the claim brought by the employee in order to determine whether the predominant contributing cause standard applied.The facts indicate that the injured worker in the underlying claim for benefits worked as a long-term employee for the Department of Corrections, as a chaplain at the hospital. After a service in the hospital chapel, a resident in a wheelchair approached a group in conversation with the employee.  From his seated position, the resident lunged and swung at the employee, striking him in the face.  The employee then pushed over the wheelchair, and the resident fell out of the chair onto the floor.  The employee’s conduct was investigated and led to disciplinary action.

The employee suffered from pre-existing mental health issues, which when combined with the injury, triggered  G. L. c. 152, § 1(7A).  The Board stated it was difficult, from the record, to determine the precise nature of his pending claim before the judge.  The judge noted the employee sought  § 34 benefits “for temporary total incapacity,” as well as §§ 13 and 30 medical benefits “for psychiatric injury.”  But the judge did not clarify whether the employee had claimed a physical injury with a disabling psychiatric sequela and need for psychiatric treatment, or an emotional stress or pure mental injury.

In cases of pre-existing mental or emotional conditions, injuries caused by pure emotional or mental stress carry a heightened standard of “predominant contributing cause,” while “major cause” standards apply when employees suffer a physical injury leading to a mental injury.  The Board stated it was “troubled” by the fact that the employee agreed the predominant contributing cause standard applied here.

Next, the Board addressed the self-insurer’s arguments concerning the judge’s treatment of the medical evidence.  Since the judge alone determines the weight of the evidence, the Board rejected the self-insurer’s argument that the judge adopted the medical opinion despite its being unclear and legally insufficient to support the conclusion that a physical injury led to a psychiatric sequela.

However, the Board agreed that the judge had mischaracterized medical evidence and adopted such evidence to support his findings.  The judge had taken the three medical opinions and, according to the Board, produced a decision that was internally inconsistent.  The rule is that when a judge adopts portions of two expert medical opinions that cannot be reconciled, a resulting decision is internally inconsistent and requires recommittal.

Specifically, the Board noted that one opinion stated the assault caused the psychiatric injury to the employee.  Another opinion was that “the entire incident” caused the injury. And finally, the third medical opinion had not found that the employee suffered a work injury of post-traumatic stress disorder, as the others did.  But the judge had reconciled these opinions and produced a decision that was internally inconsistent.

The Board stated the case would be reassigned to a different judge for a hearing de novo.

At the Law Offices of Attorney Michael O. Smith, injured employees pursuing workers’ compensation benefits receive help for their legal claims through skilled representation.  After suffering harm, mentally or physically, at work, you may be entitled to compensation according to Massachusetts law.  To set up a free consultation with a dedicated Boston job injury lawyer, call our office at (617) 263-0060.

More Blog Posts:

Discrepancy Between Employee’s Statements and Judge’s Findings Required Recommital of Case, According to Massachusetts Reviewing Board, Boston Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog, February 21, 2017

Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Judge Misstated Medical Complexity Standard, But Employee Not Entitled to Costs for Hip Replacement Because no Abuse of Discretion, Boston Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog, May 24, 2017

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