In Saab v. Massachusetts CVS Pharmacy, LLC, the SJC held that the exclusivity provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act, Massachusetts General Laws ch. 152, § 24, bars an employee’s parents from maintaining an action against the employer where the employee’s work-related injuries were compensable, even though no benefits have been paid to the employee or the employee’s family.
Cristian Giambrone was an eighteen-year-old high school student employed at a CVS store in Boston. While at work in February 2004, Giambrone and other employees attempted to apprehend a suspected shoplifter. During the struggle, the suspect stabbed Giambrone in the neck, and he died at the scene shortly thereafter. Giambrone was financially dependent on his parents, Taciana Saab and Mark Giambrone. Because he died so soon after his injury and had no dependents of his own, Giambrone was not eligible to receive any workers’ compensation benefits.
Giambrone’s parents commenced a wrongful death action against CVS, seeking recovery for loss of consortium and punitive damages. CVS moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the exclusivity provision of the workers’ compensation scheme barred the parents’ claims, even though no workers’ compensation benefits had been paid on Giambrone’s behalf. A Superior Court judge granted CVS’s motion to dismiss the tort claims, and the parents appealed. The SJC affirmed the trial court’s dismissal, holding that the determination of whether an employee’s injury is compensable under the Act—and thus whether the exclusivity provision applies—does not turn on whether a claimant actually received compensation.
Instead, the SJC explained, the exclusivity provision, which bars plaintiffs from seeking any other remedies against the employer, applies whenever the work-related injury is “compensable.” Under the Act, a “compensable” injury is any “personal injury” that arises “out of and in the course of employment.” Thus, the exclusivity provision applied to the circumstances of Giambrone’s injury. Additionally, the SJC rejected the parents’ argument that the provision violated their rights under Article 11 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights in depriving them of a remedy for the loss of their child. The Court did note, however, that its decision “may leave some injured workers or their families without a remedy.”
This decision makes clear that the exclusivity provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act shields employers from potential tort claims by an employee’s non-dependent family members, even when benefits are not dispensed for the employee’s work-related injuries. In exchange for the knowledge that work-related injuries will be compensated, an employee under the current scheme waives the right—and the derivative rights of his non-dependent family members—to sue for personal injury.