An important decision has recently been made by a Massachusetts Chief Justice who has ruled that the wife of a deceased Massachusetts construction worker can sue the contractor who oversaw a construction site where her husband was killed and son was injured, despite the fact that the contractor has already paid workers’ compensation benefits.
In a 2005 Plum Island construction accident, Timothy Wentworth and his son were working for a subcontractor on a residential jobsite when the waterproofing material they were spraying exploded after a pilot light inside the house ignited. Timothy Wentworth died from his injuries sustained and his son, Ezekiel, sustained serious and disfiguring injuries.
The subcontractor they were working for was Great Green Barrier Co., a company from Maine that did not carry workers´ compensation insurance despite state requirements. The contractor who oversaw the job and subcontractor was Henry C. Becker Custom Building. Becker did carry workers´ compensation insurance and was thus obligated to pay benefits under Massachusetts law. Timothy Wentworth´s widow, Cheryl Wentworth, and Ezekiel, agreed to the settlements and were paid worker’s compensation by Becker in 2007.
Cheryl Wentworth also filed a civil lawsuit against Becker, accusing them of her husband´s death and son´s injuries due to the contractor´s negligence. Wentworth´s claim was initially refused as the court ruled that the accepted payment of worker´s compensation served as a release of all claims arising from the incident and that the contractor was immune from the family suing for a civil claim.
However, just this week, a Massachusetts Chief Justice has reversed the lower court´s decision and has enabled the Wentworths´ claim against the contractor to proceed in civil court. Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland wrote in the court´s decision: “We conclude… that suits are not barred against general contractors that were obligated… to pay workers’ compensation benefits of the uninsured subcontractor’s employees… In sum, the immunity does not apply to the defendant (Becker).”
If you or your loved one suffers from injuries or death due to a work accident, it is best advised that you contact an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer.
Massachusetts Court Allows Workers’ Suit Against Contractor, Claims Journal, May 23, 2011
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