Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Upholds Settlement Award Allotting Damages to Injured Worker’s Pain and Suffering

In the recent case of DiCarlo v. Suffolk Construction Co., the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts was asked to consider two companion cases involving job-related injuries that involved similar issues.

The first case involved an electrician who injured his back on a job site. The employer’s workers’ compensation carrier provided benefits to compensate the man for his medical bills and missed paychecks, which amounted to roughly $282,000. The injured worker also brought a negligence action against the owner of the construction site and the job manager. Both of these defendants filed third-party indemnification actions against a subcontractor involved with the job. The parties reached a tentative settlement, but the lower court denied approval of the settlement. According to the lower court, the settlement’s allotment of 35 percent of the amount to the worker’s pain and suffering was incorrect and would prevent the insurance carrier’s lien from attaching to the portion of fees allotted as pain and suffering damages. The parties appealed, and the appellate court reversed the lower court’s holding.

In the second lawsuit, another worker suffered injuries in his capacity as a construction worker. The employer’s insurance carrier provided $566,000 to the injured man as workers’ compensation benefit payments. Similar to the initial lawsuit, the injured worker and his wife filed a third-party personal injury action against the job site’s general contractor and a subcontractor involved with the job. The parties entered into a tentative settlement agreement, and the lower court judge granted approval. Like the first case, the settlement agreement included a specific percentage apportioning the settlement funds to the injured worker’s pain and suffering. The insurance carrier objected to the approval of a settlement containing such a term stating that its lien should apply to this amount. The insurer appealed, and the appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision.

The cases were consolidated and brought before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The court concluded that the lower court in the first case erred in refusing to approve the settlement containing a percentage allotting a certain amount of the settlement to the injured worker’s pain and suffering. According to Massachusetts Gen. Laws ch. 152, § 15, a workers’ compensation insurance carrier can benefit from an employee’s settlement with a third party. The appellate court noted, however, that the language in this provision was unclear as applied to the consolidated cases. The ambiguous language stated “gross sum received in payment for the injury.”

The court distinguished pain and suffering damages as compensation for an injury that is not covered under the workers’ compensation system. As a result, a plaintiff who recovers pain and suffering damages from a third-party tortfeasor is not required to use these funds to reimburse a workers’ compensation carrier that provided benefits to the injured worker. The court rejected the insurers’ argument that this ruling provided a double recovery to the plaintiffs, noting that it would not prevent an insurer from recovering when the bulk of a settlement agreement in a third-party action was inappropriately allotted to pain and suffering damages.

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries while at work, you may be entitled to damages and workers’ compensation benefits. At the Law Offices of John S. Moffa, we have helped many Massachusetts residents bring a claim against the parties responsible for their injuries. Bringing a claim against a third party and seeking workers’ compensation benefits can be a daunting and complicated process. We can stand by you along each step of the way and ensure that your rights are asserted. Call us at 1-800-446-4485 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.

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