Written by attorney David J McMorris

Massachusetts Workers' Compensation Law

Our attorneys are well versed in the complexities of Workers' Compensation law and have successfully represented hundreds of workers in their dealings with insurance companies. We understand the financial and emotional impact of work-related injuries and illnesses, and strive to ensure that injured workers achieve the best possible protection of their rights under the Workers' Compensation program. When third-parties are involved in causing work-related injuries, we also pursue third-party claims to maximize the benefits received by clients. Injured workers may be eligible for any or all of these benefits: medical benefits, total disability benefits, partial disability benefits, total and permanent disability benefits, loss of function benefits, disfigurement benefits, vocational rehabilitation benefits. Under some circumstances, the amount of benefits due to an injured worker may be doubled.

In Massachusetts, the Workers' Compensation Act entitles you to important benefits for disabling, work-related injuries. This guide explains how the compensation system works and offers suggestions to help protect your rights. It is geared toward workers injured on or after December 23, 1991, the date on which a total revision of the Compensation Act became effective. If you were injured prior to December 23, 1991, your rights and responsibilities are different.

Under the new law, most attorneys' fees are paid by the insurer in successful claims. Under both the old and new laws, some firms, including Thornton & Naumes, charge no fee for initial consultation. It is therefore both legally and financially to your advantage to consult an attorney regarding any workers' compensation-related questions.

What is Workers' Compensation? Workers' Compensation is a type of insurance which nearly all Massachusetts employers are required by law to provide for their employees. This obligation applies to both private and public employers regardless of the number of persons employed. It makes no difference whether an employer is characterized as a business-for-profit, or a non-profit or charitable organization. In each case, workers' compensation insurance must be provided.

Most employers buy coverage from an insurance company and the insurance company pays the benefits. Some employers, such as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, are self-insured; this means that the employer pays benefits directly.

Very few employees are excluded from coverage. Major exceptions include the Federal Government, railroads, shipyards, and maritime employers. Employees in those industries are covered by other compensation laws, such as the Longshoremen and Harborworkers Act and the Federal Employers Liability Act.

Workers' Compensation provides regular weekly payments, medical coverage, vocational training, and other benefits to workers injured in the course of their employment. The basic purpose of the law is to provide prompt compensation for impairment of earning capacity. The Compensation Act sets strict deadlines for the processing of the claims, and imposes penalties on insurers who fail to make timely benefit payments when required.

Lawsuits Against Employers In exchange for the faster and more predictable benefits of workers' compensation, employees give up their rights to sue their employers in court. The right to sue for personal injury is automatically lost at the start of employment, unless the employee gives the employer written notice of intent to preserve the right on the day of hire.

Exception: If an employer fails to carry workers' compensation insurance in violation of the law, the injured employee can sue the employer in court. (Furthermore, the employee may file a claim for benefits from a special fund administered by the Department of Industrial Accidents.)

An important point to remember is that workers' compensation is a no-fault system.

If you have a work-related injury, you are entitled to medical benefits. If you are disabled for at least five days of work, you are entitled to disability benefits as well. You do not need to prove that anyone-employer, co-worker or third-party-was negligent. Furthermore, you will not lose out on benefits even if you were at fault unless it can be shown that the injury was the result of your own "serious and willful misconduct." Simple carelessness will not result in a denial of benefits.

Third Party Lawsuits In some cases, an employee can both receive compensation benefits and file a lawsuit against someone (other than his or her employer or co-workers-e.g., a manufacturer, distributor or another contractor) who may be partly responsible for the work-related injury. This may be known as a third-party lawsuit. However, if the employee receives a money judgment in court, the compensation insurer has a right to recover amounts paid in benefits from the court award. (In fact, an insurer who has paid benefits can bring a third-party lawsuit in the employee's name. This is known as subrogation.)

There are three main advantages to the employee who has filed a workers' compensation claim in bringing a third-party action:

  1. He or she may ultimately recover a greater amount from a judge or jury than from workers' compensation;
  2. The employee may receive compensation benefits while waiting for trial; and
  3. The employee may receive a money judgment in court for "pain and suffering." (There are no benefits for pain and suffering under workers' compensation).

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