Court to Decide Scope of Workers' Compensation Statute
By Gerri Elder
The Massachusetts Supreme Court is set to decide if the parents of a high school senior who was murdered may file a wrongful death lawsuit against their son's former employer.
Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly reported that Christian Ribeiro Giambrone worked as a part-time clerk at a CVS store. On February 16, 2004, Daniel Rogers came into the store and stole several packages of toothpaste. Giambrone and the store manager confronted Rogers outside of the store and Rogers stabbed them.
Giambrone was stabbed in the neck and his carotid artery was severed. He bled to death on the street.
Rogers was charged and found guilty of first-degree murder in 2007. He was sentenced to life in prison for killing Giambrone.
CVS paid Giambrone's funeral bills. The company and Giambrone's parents now disagree as to whether or not the payment of the funeral expenses qualified as a workers' compensation benefit.
In February 2007, Taciana Ribeiro Saab and Mark Giambrone filed a wrongful death lawsuit against CVS in Suffolk Superior Court. CVS was successful in having the case dismissed on the grounds that the claim is a workers' compensation claim, and as such must be brought before the Board of Industrial Accidents.
Workers' compensation is generally the sole remedy when a worker is injured or killed on the job or in the course of their employment. Employees are covered by the employer's workers' compensation insurance and are entitled to specific benefits when they are injured on the job. The dependent family members of workers who are killed on the job are entitled to receive death benefits from the workers' compensation insurance company.
Giambrone's parents were never financially dependent on their son. Therefore, under workers' compensation law, they are not entitled to receive death benefits for their son.
According to Tamara L. Ricciardone, the author of "Workers' Compensation in Massachusetts," the only way that an employee in Massachusetts can waive their right to workers' compensation benefits is if they do so at the time they are hired. They may not wait until an injury occurs and then decide to sue the employer instead.
Unless workers' compensation benefits are specifically waived, the Massachusetts workers' compensation statute calls for benefits to be paid according to guidelines set forth by law. Workers' compensation insurance coverage bars injured workers or the dependent family members of a worker who was killed on the job from suing the employer.
Giambrone's parents argue that their son was killed through the negligence of CVS. Their lawyer says that the wrongful death statute gives them the right to sue and that the workers' compensation statute never applied specifically to them.
Since the law is unclear about whether or not financially independent parties have the right to sue an employer outside the coverage of workers' compensation insurance, the Massachusetts Supreme Court will decide.