Massachusetts Ironworker Who Was Physically Capable of Minimum Wage, Unskilled Work Was Not Permanently Disabled for Purposes of Workers’ Compensation

In a Cape Cod workers’ compensation case, one of the most important issues is whether the worker (or “claimant”) has suffered a permanent physical impairment due to an on-the-job accident or a work-related illness. If so, the next inquiry is usually whether the impairment is such that the worker cannot return to work as a result.

The question of whether the claimant can return to work involves more than the issue of whether the injured individual can go back to the same job that he or she held at the time of the event giving rise to his or her permanent physical impairment. Rather, the question is whether he or she can return to any type of job at all – even one that he or she has never done before.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that a person who has done nothing but hard physical labor will be expected to shift into a desk job for which he lacks the requisite education and training. These matters, too, are taken into consideration. A recent case involved a related question, i.e. whether a skilled worker was totally disabled if he could still perform low-paying unskilled work.

Facts of the Case

In a workers’ compensation case recently reviewed by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the claimant was working as an ironworker when he suffered a permanently disabling injury to his back and shoulder. He filed a claim against his public entity employer, seeking benefits under the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act. The matter proceeded to a hearing in front of a Department of Industrial Accidents administrative law judge, who awarded permanent partial disability benefits to the claimant. The claimant appealed his case to the Department’s reviewing board. After the board affirmed the administrative law judge, the claimant sought further review.

The Holding in the Case

The appeals court affirmed the decisions of the Department, thereby rejecting the claimant’s argument that he should have been awarded permanent total, rather than permanent partial, disability payments. The court so held because it agreed with the lower tribunals’ holdings that, because the plaintiff was physically capable of holding down a minimum wage job despite his work-related injuries, he was not totally disabled from work. While the court was “not unsympathetic” to the claimant’s argument that taking the type of low-wage, retail job suited to his physical limitations would be “so demeaning” as to not be considered in deciding whether the claimant was permanently disabled, the claimant’s position was, ultimately, unavailing.

In so holding, the court referenced prior case law to the effect that a worker was permanently disabled if the only work that he or she could do was of an insubstantial or merely trifling variety but went on to state that the work for which the claimant was qualified did not fall into this category. While the claimant might not have been willing to accept such a job given his many years of experience as a higher paid, skilled ironwork, the fact remained that a “fair portion of the population” held down minimum wage retail jobs.

If You Have Been Hurt on the Job in the Cape Cod Area

If you have been hurt at work and need to speak to a helpful Cape Cod workers’ compensation attorney, please contact the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III at 888-262-6664. Alternatively, you can contact us through this website. Please remember that there are deadlines for certain procedural matters in workers’ compensation cases, so it is important to speak to legal counsel as soon as possible after an accident or work-related illness. Our office does not charge an attorney fee until your case is completed, so please do not allow the financial concerns to delay this important consultation.

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