The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled the doctrine of res judicata prohibits the re-litigation of a workers’ compensation claimant’s permanent impairment level, as previously established for a Maine work injury.
The doctrine of res judicata means literally “a matter judged.” In general, the idea is that an issue cannot be re-litigated once it’s already been judged on its merits. This encompasses limits on both the claims and any issues that may be raised in subsequent proceedings. The question was whether this doctrine would not allow a defendant in a workers’ compensation case to re-litigate the issue of permanent impairment level for a worker whose impairment level had already been established by a previous court. The court agreed the doctrine applied.
According to court records, the proceeding that kicked this off was a 2014 decision by the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board that granted the city’s petition to consider the ongoing extent of the plaintiff’s permanent impairment. At the time the board accepted this petition, the plaintiff was 65 years old and had a long history of working with the local fire department, which he joined in 1975.