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DiCarlo v. Suffolk Construction Company Inc v. Angelini Plastering, Inc.: Mass Workers’ Comp

DiCarlo v. Suffolk Constr. Co., Inc. v. Angelini Plastering, Inc., is a case that resulted in a somewhat significant change to workers’ compensation law in Massachusetts.  In a typical case, workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy.  This means that a worker who is injured or becomes sick due to a job-related injury or illness can file a workers’ compensation claim with his or her employer but cannot file a lawsuit against his or her employer.

gavel-2-1409592-mHowever, the worker is not required to prove negligence or intentional conduct committed by the employer in order to collect workers’ compensation benefits.  The reason is because the workers’ compensation system in Boston in a no-fault system.  This no-fault system benefits the worker by theoretically making it easier to collect benefits, because all a worker has to establish is that he or she was injured or became ill, that injury or illness was work-related, and they are an employee as opposed to an independent contractor. 

This system is also a benefit to the employer, because the employer will have a predictable amount to pay each month as a workers’ compensation insurance policy premium, and damages will only include lost wages and past and future medical expenses in most cases.  There is no provision for pain and suffering damages in a Boston workers’ compensation claim.

The exception to not being allowed to file a civil lawsuit is when the injury was caused by a negligent third party.  We are typically dealing with an employee who is injured on the job while driving in a car.  The employee can still collect workers’ compensation benefits, and can still file a lawsuit against the driver.  The reason a worker would want to do this is because the driver likely has insurance, and the damages in a civil personal injury lawsuit can include lost wages and medical expenses and can also include damages for pain and suffering.   Pain and suffering damages are not generally available in traditional workers’ compensation cases.

However, if you collect workers’ compensation (or were merely eligible to do so), and also sue the negligent third party, you must reimburse your employer for any workers’ compensation you received.  This is getting off without paying anything, and the claimant is still experienced a reduction in benefits.

In DiCarlo, two employees were injured on the job in an accident involving a third party negligent defendant.  After collection of workers’ compensation, the employees filed two lawsuits against negligent defendant.  The award include special damages plus an award for pain and suffering.  The employer demanded payment from all proceeds of the lawsuit.  Ultimately, on appeal, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), which is the formal name our state supreme court, ruled that damages in a personal injury lawsuit are exempt from any lien created by an employer or workers’ compensation claim.

In other words, an employee would have to reimburse his or her employer for an award for past medical expenses, future medical expenses, and even lost wages, but would not have to reimburse former employer for any amount of money connected with an award for pain and suffering.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a Boston work accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

DiCarlo v. Suffolk Constr. Co., Inc. v. Angelini Plastering, Inc., February 12, 2016, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

More Blog Entries:
Elevator Mechanic Killed when Falling Down Shaft, Jan. 24, 2015, Boston Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog