In order to qualify for an accidental disability retirement in Massachusetts, the law requires an applicant to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he or she is permanently unable to perform his or her essential duties due to an injury sustained or a hazard undergone in the line of duty. In every accidental disability retirement case in Massachusetts, the applicant must be examined by 3 physicians who are referred to as a medical panel. These 3 doctors must answer questions regarding disability, permanency, and causation. However, having a medical panel certify that an applicant is permanently disabled due to an injury sustained in the performance of the applicant’s duties does not automatically qualify an applicant for an accidental disability retirement.
The medical panel’s function is to determine “medical questions which are beyond the common knowledge and experience of the local board (or the Appeal Board).” Unless the panel applies an erroneous standard or fails to follow proper procedures, or unless the medical panel’s certificate is “plainly wrong”, the retirement board may not ignore the medical panel’s findings. Due to the importance of the panel’s findings, every applicant is legally entitled to a proper medical panel evaluation and a lawyer can help you enforce this right.
For a medical panel to be fairly conducted, the panel must conduct a fair and impartial evaluation and apply the correct medical and legal standards. The medical panel’s determination must be based on the pertinent medical and non-medical information along with an accurate job description.
Where a medical panel’s report lacked pertinent facts, is too shorthand to be sufficiently understandable, or is otherwise inadequate to support the panel’s determination, a new panel must be convened. Likewise, a new panel must be convened where the panel fails to consider the results of the documented medical studies and the applicant’s actual job duties.
Applicants for accidental disability retirements in Massachusetts have the right to determine whether to be examined by each of the three medial panel doctors separately or jointly. A lawyer can help you make this decision.