In a 2012 case a worker appealed from the Massachusetts reviewing board decision, as did his employer, the City of Worcester. The board had affirmed an award of permanent and total incapacity benefits and reversed an earlier decision that allowed the city to recoup disability benefits paid to the worker while he was engaged in a court-ordered alcohol abuse program
The worker had been a stonemason with the city when he badly hurt his back. He also developed clinical depression and anxiety. The worker filed for temporary total incapacity benefits and was awarded partial incapacity benefits. He filed for additional compensation and reached an agreement with the city about the new filing.
In 2008, the worker filed for permanent and total incapacity benefits. The judge ordered the city to pay him partial incapacity benefits, but also ordered him to repay the city for thousands of dollars worth of benefits that the city had paid him while he was in jail for a federal offense for nearly three months.
The worker appealed to get a full hearing. The judge increased the amount he had to repay to include both the period of incarceration and the time he was enrolled in an alcohol treatment program ordered by the court, among other decisions.
The reviewing board vacated the repayment order with respect to repaying the city for the period spent in an alcohol treatment program, but otherwise affirmed the decision. Both parties appealed.
The city argued that being committed to an in-patient alcohol treatment program was the same as being incarcerated, so it should recoup benefits paid to the worker from that period. This was an issue of first impression.
The appellate court explained that the treatment program was a condition of the worker’s supervised release. Any deprivation of freedom in this case did not approach the level to which it was deprived during incarceration. The worker was free to leave the treatment program during the daytime and he had weekend passes to leave. Accordingly, it found the board’s interpretation that the treatment program was different than incarceration was reasonable. The worker had not challenged the ruling that he should be denied workers’ compensation benefits while incarcerated because he could not earn. The appellate court explained that the workers’ compensation statute had to be given a broad interpretation.
The city had also argued that the worker had not shown a causal connection between his work-related injury and psychiatric disability. The appellate court explained that a worker who claims emotional disability is awarded compensation if he can show “but for” the work injury, he would not suffer an emotional disability. In this case, the administrative judge had adopted an impartial medical examiner’s opinion.
The examiner found that most of the disability was the result of chronic back pain. If the back pain were resolved, his psychiatric disorders would probably not be of such intensity that they would cause disability. Although there were stressors subsequent to the work injury, the examiner believed these were effects of the injury and that the injury was a major factor in the worker’s psychiatric disability.
If you are hurt at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. An experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney can evaluate whether you have a sound claim and fight to make sure that your employer and its insurer follow the rules. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.