Can an injured worker receive workers’ compensation benefits while attending an alcohol treatment program? That question was first addressed in Massachusetts in Kevin MacDonnell’s Case, a 2012 decision by the Massachusetts Appeals Court. This was a case of “first impression,” meaning that the Massachusetts courts had not had an opportunity to examine and decide this precise issue prior to this decision. While the parties agreed MacDonnell was not entitled to benefits while he was incarcerated, the parties disagreed as to whether MacDonnell’s court-ordered alcohol treatment equated to “incarceration.”
In 2002, the employee Kevin MacDonnell injured his back while working for the City of Worcester. He filed a claim for temporary total incapacity compensation and was awarded partial incapacity compensation. In 2005, MacDonnell filed a new claim for temporary total incapacity compensation in order to obtain additional benefits, including psychiatric treatment. As to this claim, MacDonnell and the City of Worcester reached an agreement as to the payment of benefits.
Then in 2008, MacDonnell filed another claim, this time for permanent and total incapacity compensation. The administrative judge ordered the city to pay MacDonnell partial incapacity compensation and ordered MacDonnell to repay the city nearly $8,000 because the city had paid him disability benefits while MacDonnell was in custody on federal charges. MacDonnell appealed, and on appeal the administrative judge increased the amount MacDonnell was to repay the city to nearly $16,000 for benefits paid to MacDonnell while he was incarcerated and in an court-ordered alcohol treatment program. A further appeal found that MacDonnell was, in fact, not required to pay the city for benefits he received while in alcohol treatment. The question then came before the Massachusetts Appeals Court.
In order to decide this question, the Massachusetts Appeals Court began by examining the specifics of MacDonnell’s sentence. The Court found that MacDonnell pled guilty to interference with flight crew members and sentenced to “imprisonment of time served” while awaiting trial and a three-year term of probation. One of the conditions of MacDonnell’s probation was that he was supposed to complete a 90-day inpatient alcohol treatment program.
The Court then examined the nature of the inpatient alcohol treatment, recognizing that “a condition of probation might be the equivalent of incarceration” if there was a significant deprivation of MacDonnell’s liberty. In this case, the Court noted MacDonnell maintained relative freedom while in the treatment program. MacDonnell stated he was able to leave the treatment program during the daytime for various meetings and appointments, and could receive weekend passes to visit home. At sentencing, MacDonnell’s attorney had requested that MacDonnell participate in the treatment program. Based on these factors, the Court found that MacDonnell’s inpatient treatment was not a period of incarceration and therefore MacDonnell was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits during this period.
As MacDonnell’s Case illustrates, workers’ compensation law is constantly evolving and must address unique circumstances. A skilled workers’ compensation attorney can assist you in preparing and presenting your claim, using the law as well as the unique facts of your case to show why you are entitled to benefits for your work-related injuries. Contact us today at (508) 755-7535 for a free consultation.