Benefits for Permanent Loss of Psychiatric Function Not Available to Massachusetts Worker: Litchfield’s Case

Since mental and emotional injuries are not as easy to see as physical injuries, they are often more difficult to prove in court. This is true not only in cases such as automobile accidents and product liability lawsuits, but in workplace injury cases as well.

This is unfortunate because non-physical injuries can be just as harmful as more obvious injuries, such as broken bones or lacerated skin. Sometimes, emotional injuries are even more devastating to the person suffering from them than a more overt physical injury would have been.

In the recent case of Litchfield’s Case, a Massachusetts appeals court affirmed the decision of the Industrial Accident Reviewing Board agreeing with an administrative law judge who decided that an injured worker was not entitled to benefits for permanent loss of psychiatric function.

Facts of the Case

The claimant was a heavy equipment mechanic for a town for some 17 years before he suffered an industrial injury to his elbow and shoulder in 2001. The worker did not have any symptoms of anxiety or depression before he was hurt on the job. After the injury, he was unable to engage in the activities that he enjoyed prior to the accident. According to the injured employee, pain and an inability to perform work caused him to have psychiatric conditions of depression and anxiety. The employee maintained that these emotional issues were related to the physical injury that he suffered on the job in 2001.

Over the years, the claimant filed for and was awarded compensation for his physical injuries, including awards for 35 percent partial incapacity benefits for his physical injuries, temporary total incapacity benefits, an adjustment to his loss of function benefits for his shoulder and elbow, and permanent and total benefits for his physical injuries. Most recently, the worker sought permanent loss of psychiatric function under Mass. Gen. Law. ch. 152, § 36(1)(j).

The Issue Before the Appellate Court

Was the Industrial Accident Reviewing Board was correct in affirming the administrative law judge’s denial of the injured employee’s claim for permanent loss of psychiatric function?

What the Court Decided

The appellate court agreed with both the reviewing board and the administrative law judge in their denial of the worker’s claim for permanent loss of psychiatric function. The court first noted that Massachusetts does not specify, either via statute or regulation, which edition of the AMA Guides are to be applied when rating an impairment. The court agreed with the reviewing board that the AMA Guides 6th edition (the most recent version) was appropriate in this case.

While the 6th edition considers impairments for certain major mental illnesses, the reviewing board correctly decided that the term “independently compensable” as used in Chapter 14 of the Guides requires that the psychiatric injury be caused by the industrial accident. The pain and distress complained of by the injured worker are included and compensated elsewhere in the Guides. According to the court, an injured worker rated under other Chapters has already been compensated for his pain and the psychological distress resulting from that pain.

What to Do if You’ve Been Hurt at Work

At the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, we can help you if you have been injured on the job. Setting up an obligation-free, no-cost initial consultation is as easy as a phone call or a click on our online contact form. We will be glad to speak with you about your injury and advise you of your rights under the law. We represent injured workers in Hyannis, Plymouth, and throughout the Cape Cod area.

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