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Massachusetts Supreme Court rules on workers' compensation

A recent ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court reaches back to an on-the-job injury that occurred in 1980. The ruling addressed an appeal made by the state's Department of Industrial Accidents. The appeal stated that the amount paid should reflect a worker's Massachusetts employer, and not his most recent employer, based in another state.

At issue is which employer is liable for the workers' compensation payments -- the current employer or the employer at the time of the original injury.

In 1980, the worker had his hand crushed in a metal rolling machine and obtained temporary total disability benefits. He collected benefits for about eight years. When he began working again, it was in a state other than Massachusetts. He applied for permanent total disability benefits after a 2003 surgery, performed to alleviate pain, left him with more and constant pain. The worker described his pain as "stabbing, stinging and burning pain" in his hand and arm.

An administrative law judge granted the worker permanent total disability payments based on his higher wage at the out-of-state job. However, the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents and an appeals court said the disability payments should be an amount appropriate for the former, lower-paying, Massachusetts job the worker held nearly 23 years ago.

In a unanimous decision, the state Supreme Court over turned the lower court, and ruled that the worker is entitled to an amount based on his wages in the newer job. The ruling means nearly $400 additional benefits per week for the worker.

The ruling says that it does not matter whether the wages are earned in Massachusetts or outside of the state, and that the wording of the state's workers' comp law is quite clear and unambiguous.

Workers' compensation laws are in place precisely for this reason - to provide benefits to those with on-the-job injuries.

Source: Business Insurance, "Mass. disability benefits based on current rate of pay regardless of location: Court," Sheena Harrison, March 20, 2012

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