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Home Depot can't recover overpaid workers comp benefits

Home Depot can't recover overpaid workers comp benefits

BOSTON—Home Depot Inc. cannot recoup excess payments made to an injured worker who received more workers compensation benefits than he was due, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled Thursday.

The ruling in Home Depot vs. John Kardas overturns a Superior Court judge's finding in favor of the retailer.

Mr. Kardas was a Home Depot employee when he slipped and injured his left knee while descending a ladder, court records show. He filed a workers comp claim, which Home Deport contested.

But in 2005, an administrative law judge ordered the self-insured employer to pay total disability benefits for a limited period followed by ongoing partial disability benefits.

On appeal, however, the judge issued a second order that retroactively reduced Mr. Kardas' benefits, so that he had already received more in benefit payments than he was due.

Home Depot then filed an enforcement action against the claimant. It contended that the administrative law judge's second ruling amounted to a recoupment order, and a superior court judge agreed.

But the Massachusetts Appeals Court found that Home Deport did not pursue a proper avenue for relief. Moreover, even if Home Depot had, its action was insufficient to determine whether a certain amount of recoupment would be proper, the court said.

Massachusetts case law requires judges in recoupment cases to determine “fundamental fairness” by balancing issues such as the claimant's degree of culpability and ability to pay, the employer's negligence, and the hardship the worker would suffer, the court said.

It denied Home Depot's recoupment attempt and allowed Mr. Kardas to file for reasonable appellate attorney's fees.