The Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act is a no fault system established to provide essentially 2 types of benefits to people injured on the job-weekly disability checks and payment of medical expenses associated with the care and treatment of work related injuries.
Workers’ Compensation benefits vary from state to state, but as a general rule benefits are far less than one would receive from a lawsuit against a party whose negligence causes injury. In negligence actions, damages include full wage replacement, reimbursement of medical expenses, and payment for pain and suffering. Workers’ Compensation statutes provide for payments of a percentage of lost earnings capacity, payment of medical expenses, but no payments for pain and suffering.
While injured workers clearly are short changed by these reduced payments, there is a trade off which explains the disparity. Injured workers do not have to prove fault. In other words, workers’ compensation benefits are paid regardless of who causes the accident which resulted in the injury. In many cases, workers are injured through no one’s fault. In the traditional tort setting, a person who is injured under those circumstances would recover nothing. If one is injured at work through no one else’s fault, however, recovery may be available under the Workers’ Compensation Act.
Perhaps the best explanation is the following example. A worker, who was hired to move boxes on a loading dock, injures his back while lifting a box. He cannot sue his employer because it did not cause his injury. He cannot sue the box. If he had to prove fault, he would not recover. As workers’ compensation does not consider fault, except in extremely rare instances, the injured worker is entitled to compensation benefits. The trade-off is simple-the worker receives a portion of lost wages and full medical payments in return, he or she does not have to prove fault. The reduction in lost wages, however difficult it may be for one to assume, is not as great as it would seem as these benefits are not taxable, the injured worker does not have incur the expenses of traveling to and from work as well as eating away form home, and buying tools or other materials which he or she might purchase if working.
Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation does recognize one important exception to the general no-fault rule. When an employer¹s willful and wanton misconduct causes injury, the injured worker may pursue a double compensation claim. If successful, all benefits are doubled, including medical benefits. The injured worker receives a doubling of his weekly benefits, and every time the worker receives medical care, he receives a check in the same amount as the medical provider as medical benefits are doubled as well. These benefits are paid by the insurer, and not the employer, a feature which insures that the injured worker will recover. Fortunately these cases are rare, because they involve situations in which the employer¹s conduct must be quasi-criminal. Nonetheless the facts of each case must be examined to determine if such a claim is viable.
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