In a Massachusetts workers’ compensation case, an administrative law judge is not required to adopt the medical opinion of an impartial physician if other medical testimony is entered into evidence. In Downing v. Davenport Realty Trust, a 63-year-old Massachusetts man who performed physically demanding work duties suffered a herniated disc in his back while at work in 2011. After seeking workers’ compensation disability and other benefits, the worker was examined by a neutral doctor pursuant to § 11A. Since the employee’s injury was complex, an administrative law judge also allowed the man and his employer to submit additional medical evidence.
At a hearing, the judge credited the worker’s testimony that he was no longer able to lift more than 10 pounds and his back injury made sleeping difficult. The judge also adopted most of the impartial physician’s opinion but disagreed with the doctor’s assertion that the worker was only partially disabled. Instead, the administrative judge adopted another medical expert’s view that the man was totally disabled.
Next, the administrative judge ruled the employee’s workplace injury caused his back harm and found that there was a causal relationship between the man’s disability and his work injury. The judge also adopted the opinion of a vocational rehabilitation expert who stated the employee was unable to earn wages as a result of his back harm. Finally, the judge awarded the worker §§ 13 and 30 workers’ compensation benefits. She also awarded the employee § 34 benefits from September 2011 through October 2012 and ongoing § 34A payments beginning on November 1, 2012.
On appeal to the Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board, the man’s employer argued the administrative judge committed error when she adopted the medical expert’s opinion that the worker was totally disabled because it was not based on a clear causal relationship to the man’s work injury. The Board disagreed and stated the information on which the physician’s disability opinion was based was consistent with that used by the neutral doctor. The adopted opinion also clearly stated the man’s work injury was the major cause of his back harm. Additionally, the Board said the judge had the discretion to adopt one physician’s opinion on causation and another doctor’s views on disability.
After that, the Board ruled the administrative judge did not commit error when she rejected the impartial doctor’s opinion on disability while adopting the rest of his opinion. According to the Board, the judge was not required to adopt any of the neutral physician’s opinions. The Board added that in situations where additional medical evidence is entered into evidence, a workers’ compensation judge may choose to adopt the opinion of any of the medical experts.
Since the administrative judge did not commit error, the Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board affirmed her decision to award the employee §§ 13, 30, 34 and 34A benefits and ordered the employer to pay the worker’s legal fees related to the appeal.
If you were injured at work in Massachusetts, you should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney as soon as you are able. The caring lawyers at Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. are available to help you recover the financial compensation you deserve based on the severity of your workplace injuries. To discuss your right to recover workers’ compensation benefits with a skilled advocate, contact Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. through our website or give us a call at 800-367-0871.
Downing v. Davenport Realty Trust, Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board decision No. 026102-11 (September 30, 2015)