Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issues opinion expanding Massachusetts’ jurisdiction over Workers’ Compensation Claims


On October 29, 2020, The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its ruling in Mark Mendes’s Case, No. SJC-12857, which held that the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents has subject matter jurisdiction over a claim involving an interstate truck driver based on his employment having “sufficient significant contacts” with Massachusetts.  This opinion expands Massachusetts’ jurisdiction over workers’ compensation claims, where in the past they were limited to circumstances where:

  1. The employee was employed by a Massachusetts employer; or
  2. The employee was injured while working in Massachusetts; or
  3. The employment contract was executed in Massachusetts.

In Mark Mendes’s Case, the Department of Industrial Accidents Administrative Judge denied the employee’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits, finding that although the claimant was physically disabled as a result of the work-related injury and had no earning capacity, Massachusetts lacked jurisdiction over the claim because it was neither the place of injury nor the place of hire.  Mr. Mendes was a resident of Massachusetts who was hired by a Pennsylvania based trucking transportation company when he responded to a job listing in a local Massachusetts newspaper.  The employer asked the employee to travel to Pennsylvania to participate in a three- day orientation program. Upon completion of the program, the employee and employer entered into an employment contract which was executed in Pennsylvania.  The employee would pick up his trailers at the three facilities the employer used in Massachusetts, and would then transport goods throughout New England and other states.  Out of the 112,000 miles driven by the employee while working for the employer, approximately 12% of those miles were driven in Massachusetts.  Out of his 356 days of employment, 166 were driven in Massachusetts.

After the employee appealed the denial of his claim to the Reviewing Board, the Reviewing Board recommitted the case for further finding.  A new Administrative Law Judge at the DIA found that the claimant’s “numerous and ongoing contacts with Massachusetts” conferred jurisdiction in Massachusetts.  The insurer then appealed to the Reviewing Board who concluded that the judge made an error in concluding that the department had jurisdiction over the claim and therefore reversed the decision.  Mr. Mendes then appealed to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, and the Supreme Judicial Court then took the case on direct appellate review.

The Supreme Judicial Court considered the “remedial nature” of the Massachusetts’ Workers’ Compensation Statute, and “the mandate to broaden rather than restrict jurisdiction under the act” to conclude that a more flexible approach is necessary.  The SJC held that “jurisdiction to adjudicate workers’ compensation claims lies in Massachusetts where there are sufficient significant contacts between the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the employment such that the employment can be said to be located in the Commonwealth.”  The SJC held that test to determine Massachusetts’ jurisdiction over a particular case depends on the facts of each case, and relevant considerations may include:

  1. Whether the employee is a resident of Massachusetts.
  2. The employer’ contacts with and presence in Massachusetts.
  3. Whether the employee was recruited or hired in Massachusetts.
  4. Whether and under the conditions the employee is able, or expected, to return to Massachusetts between assignments; and
  5. Whether the employer procured workers’ compensation insurance in Massachusetts.

This Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court opinion will impact many injured workers’ in a positive way, by allowing them to pursue their claims in Massachusetts and receive benefits pursuant to the Massachusetts workers’ compensation statute.  Every state has it’s own unique workers’ compensation benefit system.  Compared to most other states, Massachusetts provides enhanced monetary benefits for weekly wage loss.  Having jurisdiction in Massachusetts also allows an injured worker easier access to receive medical treatment in Massachusetts, as many Massachusetts health care providers will not accept out of state workers’ compensation reimbursement rates.  Additionally, many injured workers residing in Massachusetts simply cannot afford to travel to and stay in another state in order to pursue a workers’ compensation claim.  This opinion will surely benefit many Massachusetts residents whose occupations require interstate travel and require them to work in many states.

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