Massachusetts Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Slip and Fall Case Based on Exclusivity Provision of Workers’ Compensation Act

Cases involving injuries at one’s workplace can be wrought with many potential complications. For example, a Massachusetts workers’ compensation claim might be met with a denial of benefits on the ground that the “employee” was actually an independent contractor.

Under Massachusetts law, independent contractors are not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. However, they may be able to sue their “employer” (the person or business with whom they had a contractual agreement to perform work) for negligence, if the employer’s failure to act in a reasonably prudent manner caused physical harm to the worker.

Often, a negligence case has the potential for a larger amount of money damages if the plaintiff is successful; a workers’ compensation case, however, has the advantage of not requiring the plaintiff to prove that the defendant was at fault in his or her accident.

Facts of the Case

In a recent (unreported) case, the plaintiff was a man who worked as a chef. When entering a function hall owed by the defendant, the plaintiff slipped and fell on ice, fracturing his ankle. He filed a workers’ compensation claim against the defendant, but the defendant denied liability on the basis that the plaintiff was an independent contractor rather than an employee. Eventually, the parties agreed to settle the workers’ compensation case, and the plaintiff received a lump-sum settlement.

Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit, asserting that he had suffered medical expenses, lost wages, permanent impairment, pain, and emotional anguish due to the defendant’s negligence. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim, and he appealed.

The Ruling of the Appeals Court

Phrasing the issue as whether the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act, codified at Massachusetts General Laws ch. 152, § 23, barred the plaintiff’s negligence claim, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s negligence claim against the defendant. Under the statute, an employee who accepts payment of compensation on account of a personal injury or who makes an agreement under Massachusetts General Laws ch. 152, § 48 effectively releases all claims and demands at common law arising from the injury.

The plaintiff argued that his negligence claim against the defendant was not barred under the statute because the Department of Industrial Accidents had not determined whether he was an employee or an independent contractor, but the appellate court held that the plaintiff’s claim was barred nevertheless. The court noted that the plaintiff had pursued his claim through administrative procedures established by the Department and had agreed on a lump-sum settlement; hence, that settlement was his exclusive remedy under Massachusetts law.

Speak to a Massachusetts Injury Attorney

If you have been hurt at work, you should discuss your situation with a lawyer as soon as possible so that you can fully understand your legal rights and address any potential issues that could adversely affect your case. For an appointment to discuss your case with a helpful Cape Cod workers’ compensation attorney, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, in Hyannis or Plymouth. You can reach us at 888-262-6664.

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Massachusetts Appeals Court Affirms Permanent, Total Disability Award in Workers’ Compensation Case

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