Injured Workers Fight for Fair Scarring Benefits

October 22, 2015

Press Release
For Immediate Release

Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director, MassCOSH
Injured Workers Fight for Fair Scarring Benefits
Advocates push to change law that bars compensation for occupational-related disfigurements on arms, legs and torso.
10/22/2015 BOSTON             Sylbert Stewart was working on metal plating when he fell into a vat of chemicals at the Belmont factory where he had worked for 14 years. The 56-year-old Lowell resident suffered second and third degree burns from his thighs to his feet, leaving him permanently scarred and in pain. Additionally, he went from earning $1,000 per week to a little over $600 – receiving no compensation for his scarring injuries.
That’s because in Massachusetts, workers like Stewart who are disfigured on their arms, legs and torso, are not eligible for compensation under workers compensation laws. However, thanks to advocacy from Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health members and allies, that law may soon change.

Today, the Massachusetts Senate approved a measure 36 to 1 that will ensure that scarring victims like Stewart will finally receive compensation. Sponsored by Representative Sean Garballey and Senator Sal DiDomenico, the bill would eliminate the requirement that scars be on the face, neck and hands, and increase the compensation from a flat $15,000 to 22.5 times the state’s average weekly wage.
Stewart agreed to share his story with the legislature in order to help change the laws and criteria for scarring injuries. “We just want to help other people in the same situation,” said Stewart’s daughter, Shanee Stewart.
Workers like Stewart can never go to the beach again on a sunny day without catching the startled stares of passersby. Some are unable to wear short sleeves without exposing permanent scarring on their arms. This not only causes emotional and, in many cases, physical suffering – it can also harm the worker’s earning potential.

“We’ve heard extremely compelling testimony for this long-overdue bill in the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development,” said Senator Daniel A. Wolf, Co-Chair, Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “On behalf of victims of workplace accidents, thank you to MassCOSH for your tireless advocacy on this bill.”

MassCOSH’s lawyers’ committee and state lawyers’ association members weighed in heavily in support of the bill.

“Every day, an injured worker’s scar serves as a visual reminder of their injury and the losses incurred as a result of the incident,” said Deborah G. Kohl, Esq., a member of the MassCOSH Lawyers’ Committee who chairs the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Workers Compensation section. “It is only fair to adequately compensate the injured worker for this disfigurement. The current statutory payments fall woefully short and have failed to keep pace with inflation. Injured workers in MA are being paid based on rates set almost 30 years ago. It is time to rectify that inequity and this proposed legislation will do so.”

“This legislation is so very important to our injured workers,” said Jud Pierce, a member of the MassCOSH Lawyers’ Committee and chair of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys’ Workers Compensation committee. “Scarring benefits have not increased in a quarter of a century “This will modest change in our statute will also bring us in line with other states. With indexing the maximum benefit to the state average weekly wage it will prevent it from once again becoming stale as the economy continues to change.”
The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and they need to hear from you! MassCOSH urges members of the public to call their representatives in the House, or House Speaker Robert DeLeo directly to let them know you support fair Scarring benefits for injured workers. Click here to find your representative and their contact information