Heard: January 5, 2017.
action commenced in the Superior Court Department on October
case was heard by Douglas H. Wilkins, J., on motions for
Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the
case from the Appeals Court.
A. Winkeller for the plaintiff.
H. Forbes, Special Assistant Attorney General, for the
Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd,
G. L. c. 126, § 18A, and G. L. c. 30, § 58, the
Legislature has afforded correction officers additional
compensation to close the gap between workers'
compensation benefits and an employee's salary if the
employee sustains bodily injury as a result of inmate
violence during the course of his or her duties. The
plaintiff, George Modica, a correction officer in the Suffolk
County Sheriff's Department, sued the defendants -- the
sheriff of Suffolk County, the Suffolk County sheriff's
department, and the Commonwealth -- to obtain compensation
under the statutes. At issue in this case is the meaning of
"bodily injury" as the term is used in the two
statutes. We conclude that bodily injury is that which
results in physical injury; because the defendant has not
suffered such an injury, he does not qualify for compensation
under the statute.
pertinent facts, taken from the record, are undisputed. As a
result of breaking up inmate fights in March and April of
2010, the plaintiff began to experience an accelerated heart
rate (sinus tachycardia) accompanied by lightheadedness and
defendants initially paid workers' compensation benefits
voluntarily but soon after discontinued them. The plaintiff
filed a claim for further workers' compensation benefits
and, insofar as relevant here, the plaintiff underwent two
independent medical examinations. Both doctors concurred that
the defendant's symptoms were a physiological response to
stress, that the sinus tachycardia was neither the result nor
the cause of any physical harm, and that there was no
evidence of structural heart disease.
parties eventually settled the plaintiff's workers'
compensation claim, stipulating that the plaintiff's
injury was a physiological response to his involvement in
inmate altercations. The plaintiff thereafter applied for
compensation under G. L. c. 126, § 18A, and G. L. c. 30,
§ 58, which the defendants denied. The plaintiff
commenced an action in the Superior Court. Both parties filed
motions for summary judgment, which were heard by a Superior
Court judge. The judge denied the plaintiff's motion and
allowed the defendants' motion. He concluded that the
tachycardia "amount[ed] to a change in function without
physical damage" and that therefore the condition was
not a bodily injury entitling the plaintiff the extra
compensation. The plaintiff appealed, and we transferred the
case to this court on our own motion.