Massachusetts SJC Rules that Workman’s Comp Statute Precludes Parents’ Suit against Employer for Child’s Death Even Though Employer Paid No Benefits


SJC-10193, November 13, 2008

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has affirmed a judgment of dismissal of a claim by the parents of a deceased CVS employee, who died from injuries suffered when he was stabbed with a knife while trying to apprehend a shoplifter. The Court concluded that the determination whether an employee’s injury is compensable under the Workmans’ Compensation Act, G.L. c. 152, § 24, and whether the exclusivity provision applied, did not turn on whether a claimant was entitled to or actually receives compensation under the act. Because the employee’s work-related injuries were compensable, his parents were barred from maintaining any action against his employer.

The employee was working at a CVS store on Longwood Avenue in Boston in February, 2004. Employees, including the deceased, attempted to apprehend a suspected shoplifter, who responded violently, stabbing the employee in the neck with a knife. He died at the scene shortly thereafter. At the time of death, the employee was an eighteen year old high school student, lived at his mother’s home, had no dependents and was financially dependent on his parents.

The Court specifically considered whether the exclusivity provision of the Act barred an employee’s parents wrongful death claim where the employee was injured at work but no workers’ compensation payments were paid for the injury. The employee had no dependents and died almost immediately after the incident. Accordingly, no benefits were paid under the statutory scheme.

The Court determined that the key to whether the act precluded a common-law right of action depends on the nature of the injury for which the plaintiff makes claim. If the injury is compensable under General Laws c. 152, § 26, there is no independent right of action, even where no compensation is available for those injuries, and those same exclusivity provisions also would apply to family members of the employee. While the Court expressed its sympathy for the plight of the parents, it stated that it was not the role of courts to create a more comprehensive or logical system of compensation. Rather, that was a task for the Legislature.



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