No Workers Comp Lien for Pain and Suffering in Third-Party Settlements
In a landmark case (DiCarlo vs. Suffolk Construction), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a decision today that states once and for all that there is no workers’ compensation lien for pain and suffering in third-party settlements. This is a HUGE victory for injured workers and ensures that the workers’ compensation insurer cannot claim an entire third-party settlement. If you were injured on the job, contact John J. Sheehan- an experienced Boston Workers Compensation Attorney- TODAY!
Massachusetts Workers Compensation Law
Under M.G.L. Ch. 152 et seq., an employee injured on the job is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits which include lost wage benefits and medical benefits. There is no direct compensation under the Massachusetts workers comp statute for pain and suffering. Sometimes an injured worker is hurt on the job due to some other person or company’s fault or negligence. In those cases where a worker is hurt on the job due to an accident or unsafe or dangerous condition caused by some person or company not part of the worker’s employer, the injured worker may bring a third party claim seeking damages – including pain and suffering — from the persons or companies who caused the work injury. Since pain and suffering is not covered under the Massachusetts workers comp law, the Court decided that there is not workers’ compensation lien on the amount of a third party settlement that covers pain and suffering.
Impact of the DiCarlo Decision
In certain cases, the amount of the third party settlement may be less than the total amount of the workers’ compensation lien depending on the amount of insurance a third party defendant may have or depending on the strength of the third party case. If there is a possibility that he or she might lose at trial, an injured worker may accept a compromise settlement that will guarantee a sum certain. Before the DiCarlo Decision, a workers’ compensation insurer could compromise and reduce its lien allowing the injured worker to receive a certain amount of the third party settlement. There was nothing the law could do to force a workers’ comp insurer to compromise and reduce its lien. Sometimes the insurer might try to grab all or most of the settlement especially if the lien was far greater than the amount of the third party settlement. Now, the injured worker is guaranteed a certain amount of the third party settlement for pain and suffering. The rest of the settlement would cover the attorney’s fees, legal expenses and the workers comp lien.
Calculating Settlements in Massachusetts Workers Compensation Cases
The Court did not give an exact formula outlining how pain and suffering compensation is to be calculated. In the cases before the Court, the injured workers asked for an allocation of 30 – 35% of the total third party settlement. The Court warned that it would look negatively on any attempt to allocate a disproportionate amount of a third party settlement to pain and suffering since that could prejudice the workers’ comp insurer. Since all third party settlements must be approved by a DIA Judge at the Department of Industrial Accidents or a Trial Judge at the District Court or Superior Court, all parties including the workers comp insurer will have an opportunity to be heard at a third party lump sum settlement hearing. Now that the playing field has been balanced, injured workers and workers’ comp insurers should be encouraged to compromise and agree on a fair distribution of third party settlements that will compensate the injured worker and reimburse the insurer for its lien.
If you were Injured, Now is the Time to Get the Justice you Deserve
If you or a loved one was injured on the job, this case is great news for your claim. The playing field has evened out, so injured workers can get the compensation they deserve. The faster you act, the more your attorney can’t protect your rights, so contact an experienced Massachusetts Workers Compensation Attorney today!
Photo via Wikimedia by Tomas Castelazo