Liberty Mutual Wins Dismissal of Claim for Injured Mass. Carpenter

June 25, 2010

Liberty Mutual was right to deny workers’ comp benefits for a self-employed carpenter who severely injured his hand, the Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled.

The decision upholds an earlier ruling by an administrative judge at the Industrial Accident Reviewing Board who found that the sole proprietor and only employee of a carpentry business was not entitled to collect workers’ comp benefits from an unendorsed, Liberty-issued policy.

Garth Findlay, a carpenter doing business as Jog Construction Co., sued Liberty Mutual for benefits for an injury he suffered in 2005. Findlay had purchased a workers’ compensation policy from Liberty Mutual in 2001 — notably, before a legal change in the state’s workers’ comp laws — which was required to perform work at several sites where he was a contractor. At that time, sole proprietors in Massachusetts could not cover themselves as employees under a workers’ compensation policy.

However, a legislative change in 2002, allowed sole proprietors to purchase coverage for themselves as employees through a policy endorsement. Despite several renewals over the years, Findlay did not request the change to his policy, according to court documents.

Findlay sought benefits under the policy following his injury. Liberty Mutual declined to pay, citing Findlay’s failure to request the endorsement for him to be covered as an employee.

The Appeals Court agreed with the Boston-based insurer, ruling that, in siding with Liberty Mutual, the administrative judge “did not act unreasonably in interpreting the (law) in a manner requiring that Findlay make an affirmative election with Liberty Mutual to be treated as an employee.”

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