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What is Worker's Compensation, and how does it work in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, an employee may seek worker’s compensation relief if the employee has a complained-of harm that is of personal injury in nature. In addition, the injury that the plaintiff suffers must be an injury that arouse out of or in the course of employment.

Consider the following fictional scenario:

Corey is an hourly employee who works as an entry-level financial analyst for a medical supplies company. In his administrative role, he rarely sees the production team and the supplies that the company manufactures. Additionally, Corey does not see the day-to-day occurrences and practices of the medical supplies wing of his company. One of these occurrences involves the use of various substances to keep the supplies intact, sterile, and ready-to-ship. One late afternoon, his supervisor called Corey to ask Corey to visit him in his supervisor’s temporary office space to meet about the latest budget. The temporary office space is located on the wing of medical supplies department; his boss’s office was usually right next to Corey’s office, but was being renovated, so his boss’s new location was temporary.

On his way to meet his boss, Corey slips and falls on a clear gel-like solution and a long medical tube that had been left on the floor by an employee. According to the employer’s installed cameras, the items had been left on the floor for a few hours. The fall requires Corey to have stiches and several surgeries. He cannot walk on his leg. In addition to his medical expenses, Corey also has lost wages and lost earning capacity. Corey believes that he needs to seek relief through worker’s compensation. Is he able to do so? What is the legal standard? Could he--or should he--also file a separate tort claim against his employer?

In order to recover under the Massachusetts worker’s compensation laws, the injury suffered must be a physical or emotional harm, not dignitary harm, such as negligent distress to the employee or intentional infliction of emotion distress against the employee. An employee who seeks support via the Massachusetts worker’s compensation laws may pursue damages in the form of lost wages, lost warning capacity, and medical expenses.

In the application of Corey’s story and the law, an attorney would likely advise Corey to pursue worker’s compensation relief. Although there are few questions about the validity of his damages, the crux of the issue is whether Corey suffered a personal injury that arose out of or in the course of his employment. Although the facts are clear that Corey was injured on his way to meet with his boss, the facts are unclear as to whether Corey walked the appropriate route that a reasonable person would take. If, for example, Corey traveled in an area that was marked as being “off limits” to employees, then Corey’s injuries were outside the scope of what is expected of him in the workday. If Corey traversed on a regular route that was intended for all employees to walk, then he was acting within the course of his employment. Another issue is whether his harm is a personal injury. Based upon the facts, it is likely that Corey suffered a personal injury because he was physically harmed.

If instead of the above facts Corey had approached his boss’s office and had seen a mouse in the office, fainted, and had not suffered injuries, Corey would not likely be able to pursue relief via the worker’s compensation laws, because he had not suffered a personal injury and the injury had not happened in the course of his employment.

It is important to note that when a plaintiff files a claim under worker’s compensation, a tort claim is then barred. The worker’s compensation relief funds would be used instead of the employee’s pursuit of a separate tort claim. Claims against third parties are not covered by worker’s compensation, but claims of employees against employees generally are treated the same in worker’s compensation law. Intentional torts for claims against employees are not covered, however.

If you have any questions about issues involving tort law, worker’s compensation relief, physical or emotional injuries, distress, or other issues related to damages in a workplace situation, you should contact a competent attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth. Our experienced professionals may be able to work on behalf of you. Please contact our offices at your earliest convenience by phone at 978-225-9030 or complete a contact form on our website. We will return your inquiry with prompt attention.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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