Earlier this year, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), the state’s highest court, issued a decision that will have far-reaching effects on settlements in cases involving injured workers in Massachusetts.
In the companion cases of DiCarlo v. Suffolk Construction Co., Inc. and Martin v. Angelini Plastering, Inc., the SJC, in a unanimous decision, ruled that a workers’ compensation insurer may not recover its lien from the portion of a third-party settlement that is allocated to the injured worker’s pain and suffering damages.
The Court recognized that the language of the workers’ compensation statute precludes an insurer from claiming reimbursement of its lien from amounts other than those allocated for lost wages and medical expenses. Because pain and suffering damages are not compensable under the workers’ compensation system, the lienholder cannot assert its lien against those non-economic aspects of damages recovered in a third-party settlement. As stated by the Court, ‘[t]he insurer here did not compensate the employees for their pain and suffering, and so cannot seek ‘reimbursement’ from damages paid for those harms.’ The Court went on to state that its conclusion furthers the legislative goal of minimizing tort litigation, and gives employees an incentive to settle their claims.
This was a hard-fought and very significant win for injured workers in Massachusetts because it will allow an injured party to recover for pain and suffering, often a very significant aspect of the claim, without the concern that all or some those damages might have to be repaid to the workers’ compensation insurer.
The Martin case was handled by the Keches Law Group at all stages of the litigation and up through the oral argument before the SJC. We are proud to have achieved a favorable outcome for our client, and to have carried the torch for other injured plaintiffs in Massachusetts.