Work-Related Injuries / Workers’ Compensation
Injuries that are suffered at the workplace or on the job fall under a separate area of law known as "Workers' Compensation." Most states, including Massachusetts, have statutes that separate out how injury claims that are incurred at the workplace are treated legally, vs. injuries that occur completely unrelated to the workplace. In Massachusetts, the Workers' Compensation Act is governed by Massachusetts General Laws. C. 152.
In Massachusetts, employers are required by law to purchase and carry Workers' Compensation Insurance, covering their employees for injuries incurred at the workplace. In Massachusetts, injuries that occur "on the job" (and that definition can be tricky sometimes) are usually governed by, and adjudicated by, the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA), which administers and enforces Workers' Compensation laws. The DIA and the Workers' Compensation system provide for a more expedited, streamlined system of compensating workers for injuries that are incurred on the job, than requiring injured workers to sue in "regular" civil court. Payment for these types of injuries is paid for by the insurance companies that employers pay workers' compensation premiums to, which they are required to by law in Massachusetts. Hence, injured employees don't need to sue their employers in the civil court system to be compensated for their injuries. However, in Massachusetts, an injured employee may file a personal injury suit in the "regular" (civil) court system, if his or her employer did not carry workers' compensation insurance as required by law. Your best option is to be properly informed about your case by an experience workers' comp attorney in Boston.
The Department of Industrial Accidents is staffed by Administrative Law Judges who hear injury claims, and it is completely separate from the civil court system, where non work-related injury cases may be brought. The legislative rationale for this difference, lies in the Commonwealth's, and the business / employer community's, common interest in seeing claims for work-related injuries resolved in a faster, smoother manner than the traditional court system usually provides. Think about it, and it will make sense: If every person in Massachusetts who ever suffered an injury on the job filed suit to be compensated for their injuries in the regular court system, employers would be tied up in lawsuits around the state; workers would not, on a practical level, be able to return to their employers; and in general, serious economic and labor problems would result throughout the state.
It's important to note that while most injuries usually take place in an accident that is isolated and obvious, some injuries do not occur this way. Some develop over years of time, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, or tendonitis or similar "repetitive use" injuries. Some additional examples of injuries that can occur over time include: Heart ailments, asbestos exposure and breathing / lung diseases. Therefore, it is important not to view an injury as of necessity occurring only during an identifiable, isolated accident that "stands out," even though many injuries occur just once (such as a fall) and do stand out as distinct. Regardless, if you or someone you know has been injured on the job, the following commonly asked Questions and Answers can begin to provide you valuable information:
- What Medical Coverage Do I Receive If I Am Injured At Work?
If your employer has a medical office on-site, seek treatment there. If not, you may seek treatment at any medical facility licensed by the Commonwealth. In general, you will be entitled to full payment or reimbursement for all medical treatment that is "reasonable, necessary and related to" the accident.
- How Long Do I Have To File A Claim After I Am Injured?
By statute, you must file a claim with your employer's' insurer within four years of the date that you become aware of the connection between your disability and your employment. (Remember the example of "repetitive use" injuries when considering this. Not all injuries become apparent at the time they first occur.)
- What Types Of Injuries Are Covered By Worker's Compensation?
Any injury that arises "out of and in the course of employment" is compensable. As long as the injury occurred at work, it will generally be covered unless the injured person is guilty of some serious or willful misconduct (ex: Operating machinery at work - or driving a company car - while intoxicated.) Employees who become injured over time due repetitive activities such as lifting, or due to carpal tunnel syndrome, are also covered.
- How Do I Know I Am Covered By Workers' Compensation Benefits?
As a broad rule, there are two primary factors that determine your eligibility: First, whether you are an "employee" of your employer - vs. an "Independent Contractor" (That can sometimes be a grey issue); and second: whether your injury occurred "as a result of" your employment. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can advise you of your particular situation. If you have been injured and have any questions about whether you are an "employee," contact us for a free consultation.
- What Benefits Are Available If I Am Injured At Work?
It depends on your injury. If you are totally disabled due to a workplace injury, you will receive 60 per cent of your pre-injury wage. This wage amount is determined by the average of your gross earnings prior to the injury, and can last for a maximum of three years. If you are determined to be partially disabled (unable to engage in regular work and/or earn regular pay,) the workers' compensation insurer must pay 60 per cent of the difference between your pre-injury wage and your post-injury earnings. These benefits can last for a maximum of five years.
- Do I Need An Attorney If I am Injured On The Job And Need To Make A Claim?
If you're smart, yes. For you to be eligible for workers' compensation benefits, your case will need to be heard either by an administrative judge or a "conciliator" at the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA.) The workers' compensation insurer who represents your employer will have their own attorney there. If you don't have an experienced workers' compensation attorney representing you, you will be severely compromised. In short, it's not a smart idea - at all.
If you feel that you or someone you know has been injured in the workplace or on the job, contact us for a free consultation. Our Boston injury attorney has a great deal of experience in this area of personal injury. We can help you.