The appellant in this case asked the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to reinterpret or find unconstitutional the exclusivity provision of the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”), G. L. c. 152, § 24, so as to permit the non-dependent parents of an adult child who died on the job, and whose funeral costs were paid under the Act, to sue the child’s employer for loss of consortium due to wrongful death.
Accepting NELF’s argument that the key to the applicability, and therefore the exclusivity, of remedies under the Act is not whether an injury is compensated but rather whether it is compensable, the Court concluded that the trial court had properly dismissed this wrongful death action against CVS. The facts of the case are tragic: the plaintiffs’ 18-year-old son, Cristian Giambrone, was killed by a shoplifter whom he attempted to detain while working at a CVS store. While Cristian’s injury occurred on the job, he died almost immediately and without dependents and therefore no compensation was payable under the Act either to Cristian or to his family members. While the plaintiffs have indisputably suffered a tragic loss, a decision in their favor would have substantially upset the careful legislative balance embodied in the Act by nullifying the protection afforded employers by the § 24 exclusivity provision.
In addition to drawing the critical distinction between compensable and compensated injury, NELF’s brief in support of CVS countered the plaintiffs’ contention that applying the § 24 exclusivity provision to their claims would contravene Article XI of the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution by leaving them with no remedy. NELF argued, inter alia, that Article XI does not preclude the Legislature from abrogating a common law right, even when there exists no other remedy. The Court agreed with all of these arguments and further agreed with NELF that a ruling in plaintiffs’ favor would require reversal of clear precedent and undermine legislative policy choices whereby, in return for giving up his own right and that of his family members to sue under common law, an employee is assured of compensation under the Act regardless of fault or foreseeability of injury. The employer, in return for this no-fault obligation, is relieved of other possible liabilities and related transaction costs and gains a somewhat more predictable responsibility that it can treat as a cost of doing business.
As the Court concluded, public policy decisions balancing competing societal interests are “a task for the Legislature” and not properly the role of judges.