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A teacher is entitled to accidental disability retirement benefits, even though her injuries did not occur performing tasks in her job description, a Massachusetts Appeals Court held Tuesday.
In Boston Retirement Board v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Board, a three-judge panel of the Boston-based court unanimously affirmed a Superior Court ruling granting benefits to the teacher.
Teacher Deborah Walsh alleged that she sustained several injuries in late 2009 while employed including an injury from lifting and carrying a computer to her classroom in September, an injury in October from moving heavy tables, and an injury in December from breaking up an altercation among several students. The Contributory Retirement Appeals Board granted her request for accidental disability retirement benefits. However, the Boston Retirement Board argued that the incidents are not compensable personal injuries because the tasks she was performing were not part of her job duties and did not occur during working hours.
The appellate court disagreed, holding that Ms. Walsh presented sufficient evidence to satisfy that her disability was “the natural and proximate result” of personal injuries sustained in the course of her job duties. Although her job description did not specifically list carrying classroom items or breaking up student fights as a part of a teacher’s responsibilities, the appellate court noted that her job description stated that teachers were required to maintain a classroom that was attractive and assume general responsibility for the welfare of the students.
While the board claimed that the incidents should not be compensable because they did not occur during work hours, the appellate court determined that the first incident, which occurred prior to the first day of school, was compensable based on testimony that teachers were required to have their classrooms ready prior to the start of the school year. The second incident occurred during her lunch hour, and the third just prior to the start of school that morning, which the appellate court said constituted working at the school and engaging in the performance of her duties during both incidents.
The board also argued that Ms. Walsh’s testimony should have been discredited and contended that the incidents and subsequent injuries never actually occurred, but the appellate court held that this argument “fundamentally misapprehends the role of a court conducting judicial review of the decision of an administrative body,” and that it would refuse to set aside a ruling unless legally erroneous or unsupported by substantial evidence.
Finally, the appellate court awarded attorney’s fees and costs to Ms. Walsh based on the “frivolous nature” of the board’s arguments.
Attorneys for the boards were unable to be located for comment. The attorney for Ms. Walsh did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A high school teacher injured while breaking up a fight between students may not sue the school district where he worked for negligence because workers compensation was his exclusive remedy, a federal court ruled Thursday.