Massachusetts County Correction Officer’s Claim for Assault Pay Was Subject to Three-Year Statute of Limitations – Flaherty v. Sheriff of Suffolk County

Workplace injury cases can be complex. Depending upon the facts of the case, a person injured on the job may be entitled to benefits beyond those awarded by the Department of Industrial Accidents. Although there are limitations on the usual workers’ compensation benefits overseen by the Department, lawsuits against third parties who caused or contributed to an employee’s injuries are not subject to the same rules.

For example, if a worker drives as part of his or her job and is injured in a car accident while in the course and scope of employment, the worker may be able to file a traditional personal injury lawsuit against the person who caused the wreck. (If the suit is successful, the employer may be entitled to an offset of any monies paid to the worker.)

In a recent case, an injured governmental employee sought benefits beyond that which were awarded by the Department. Unfortunately, he waited to late too file suit and lost part of the money to which he would have otherwise been entitled.

The Nature of the Plaintiff’s Injury

In the case of Flaherty v. Sheriff of Suffolk County, the plaintiff was a county correction officer who was injured due to prisoner violence in 2006. An administrative law judge found him to be partially disabled shortly after the accident. Accordingly, he was awarded workers’ compensation benefits until September 2010, which was the effective date that a lump sum settlement agreement ended his benefits. In November 2010, the officer filed suit in superior court, seeking assault pay pursuant to Mass. Gen. Law. ch. 126 § 18A.

What Happened in the Trial Court

The judge of the superior court found in favor of the officer, holding that the defendants were liable for assault pay. In so holding, the court rejected the defendants’ contentions that the officer’s entitlement to assault pay ended when he reached retirement age and/or that his lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations. Dissatisfied with the ruling, the defendants appealed.

Proceedings in the Appellate Case

The appellate court vacated the trial court’s order and directed that a new judgment be entered to the effect that the officer was entitled to assault pay for the period beginning three years before he filed his complaint and ending when his workers’ compensation benefits terminated in September 2001. The court so held because it agreed with the trial court that the officer was entitled to assault pay as long as he was receiving workers’ compensation benefits but that the applicable statute of limitations (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 3A) precluded him from recovering payments that would have been due more than three years before the filing of his complaint.

Although the court agreed with the officer that his claim arose under an employment contract, the court rejected his argument that the governing statute of limitations was the six-year statute for contract disputes. Because the suit was, in essence, against the Commonwealth, the three-year statute of limitations that governs all claims against the Commonwealth applied to the officer’s case.

To Get Help with Your Worksite Injury Case

If you have been injured on the job and would like to speak to a knowledgeable Cap Code worksite injury lawyer, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III at (888) 262-6664 to schedule a free initial consultation. With offices in Hyannis and Plymouth, we offer legal services throughout the Cape Cod area. The consultation is free, and we accept most cases on a contingency fee basis so no legal fees are required upfront.

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