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Massachusetts Correctional Officer Denied Closed Period Workers’ Compensation Benefits Where Work Stress Was Not a Major Cause of Medical Symptoms

DSC_0289 morguefile larryfarrIn order to collect workers’ compensation benefits in Massachusetts, a workplace incident must be the major cause of an employee’s medical symptoms. In Opanasets v. Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, a 39-year-old corrections officer apparently began to experience high blood pressure, headaches, and fatigue after inmates began fighting and exhibiting other violent behavior in their cells. As a result, the worker asked to be placed on light duty in a position that involved no contact with inmates. Although his employer denied the correctional officer’s request, the employer instead approved a temporary medical leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Following the man’s three-month leave of absence, he sought workers’ compensation benefits for the period during which he was absent from work.

At a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), the man’s employer denied compensability based on the issues of liability, the extent of the correctional officer’s incapacity, and the causal relationship, including his preexisting blood pressure issues. After medical testimony was presented in the worker’s case, it was reassigned to a new ALJ. Despite this, both parties apparently agreed to have the case decided by the new ALJ, based on the hearing transcript and other evidence included in the record.

Ultimately, the ALJ ruled that §1(7A) applied to the correctional officer’s case and adopted a medical expert’s opinion that the workplace events were not a major cause of the employee’s need for medical treatment. As a result, the ALJ denied the correctional officer’s claim for closed period benefits. In response, the employee appealed the judge’s decision to the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board.

On appeal, the worker argued he did not know §1(7A)’s major cause standard was at issue because the prior ALJ stated the employer failed to meet its burden on this issue before allowing the parties to submit additional evidence. According to the correctional officer, he would have secured additional testimony if he had been on notice the major cause standard would be applied to his case.

The Board disagreed with the officer’s argument and stated the employer properly raised the issue before the second ALJ. According to the Board, the employer elicited testimony from one of the medical experts regarding the combined effect of the employee’s preexisting condition and his alleged workplace injury without objection. Additionally, the Board said the employee did not object to the medical expert’s testimony that the work stressors were only a minor cause of the correctional officer’s symptoms. The court added that the correctional officer’s argument failed because the first ALJ permitted the employee to offer evidence from a second medical expert in order to address the issue of §1(7A), and the worker argued the major cause standard was met in his closing argument.

Since the ALJ did not commit error when he denied the correctional officer’s request for workers’ compensation benefits, the Board affirmed the judge’s decision.

If you were injured at work in Boston, do not hesitate to contact the caring workers’ compensation lawyers at Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. Our dedicated attorneys are available to help you recover the benefits you may be entitled to following a workplace injury. To discuss your rights under the Massachusetts workers’ compensation law in greater detail, give Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C. a call today at 800-367-0871 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Opanasets v. Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board Decision No. 022569-10 (May 14, 2015)

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Photo Credit: larryfarr, MorgueFile