Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

If an individual is acting within the scope of their employment when they are injured in a Maryland car accident, they may receive workers’ compensation benefits for their injuries. Generally, if a worker receives workers’ compensation benefits by way of Maryland’s Workers’ Compensation Act, they cannot seek damages through a civil lawsuit from their employer. That rule, known as the exclusivity rule, was put in place so that workers would receive benefits solely through workers’ compensation, allowing them to receive benefits quickly while limiting employers’ liability. However, injured accident victims can file a Maryland injury claim against a third party under Maryland law based on their negligent conduct.

Under Maryland law, a co-employee is generally considered a third party. In the event that an injured worker or an employer receives compensation through a third-party injury claim, the employer may be able to receive reimbursement for the workers’ compensation paid to the injured worker.

In a recent decision before one state’s supreme court, the court considered whether a passenger in a vehicle driven by a coworker and owned by another coworker could recover benefits under the owner’s insurance policy after a car accident. In that case, the plaintiff and two co-workers were returning from a work trip when the co-worker driving the car fell asleep at the wheel, causing the car to crash and causing the plaintiff significant injuries. The plaintiff recovered workers’ compensation benefits for his injuries as well as uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM) benefits through his own auto insurance policy. He also sought benefits from the owner’s insurer, seeking, among other things, UM/UIM benefits.

Many Maryland residents go to and from work every day without ever experiencing any major accidents. Sometimes, however, accidents occur on the job, and employees will find themselves injured because of something that happened while they were working. These accidents can take many forms. For example, mailmen might get bitten by a dog while delivering mail, or they might trip while walking up to someone’s door to drop off a package. Grocery store workers might slip on a wet floor, or mechanics might get injured by faulty machinery. In many of these circumstances, the employee would be eligible to claim worker’s compensation and recover financially for their losses against their employer. In some cases, however, a worker may also be able to bring a third-party work injury claim to recover for the damages they have suffered.

Third-party work injury claims are filed by an employee injured on the job against a negligent party other than their employer—a third party. This type of claim is available when the injury was caused in full or in part by a party other than the employer. For example, take a tragic accident from earlier this month. According to a local news report, the accident occurred around 7:30 one night at a Home Depot. A delivery driver (who did not work for Home Depot) was delivering construction materials when a load of drywall fell on him at the store, striking and ultimately killing him. Not much more is known about this incident right now, but it was clearly an unexpected tragedy.

This is an example of a situation where an employee—or in this case, an employee’s family, since the victim was killed—may be able to file a third-party claim. In this case, rather than suing the victim’s employer, the plaintiffs would potentially file suit against Home Depot. To be successful in this claim, the plaintiffs would have to prove that Home Depot, or one of its employees, somehow caused the accident. Perhaps they negligently secured the drywall high up somewhere, creating a risk that it would fall on someone below, for example. If the plaintiffs can successfully prove that Home Depot was responsible for the accident, they can recover financially against them to try and make them whole after the damage suffered. Damages awarded to plaintiffs in cases such as these commonly include medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and even funeral and burial costs.

Workers’ compensation benefits are meant to provide benefits to injured workers in exchange for giving up the right to file a suit against their employer in court. The rule that recipients of workers’ compensation benefits cannot seek compensation elsewhere is known as the “exclusivity rule.” This means that in general, Maryland accident victims injured at work cannot file suit against their employers. However, there are some exceptions to the rule. Under Maryland law, if an employee is injured or killed because the employer had the deliberate intent to injure or kill the employee, the employee may still bring a claim for damages against the employer. In the event of an employee’s death in such a case, the employee’s surviving spouse, child, or dependent may bring a claim against the employer.

A state supreme court recently considered such a case in which the plaintiff argued that his claim fell under the deliberate injury exception to the exclusivity rule. The plaintiff was working on a commercial construction project. Workers used a crane to drill a 130-foot auger into the ground and were attempting to free the auger from hardening grout after prematurely starting to secure it. After unsuccessful attempts to free the auger, a supervisor ordered the crew to continue to try to free it by rocking it while pressuring the crane’s hoist cable. Eventually, the crane collapsed, causing the plaintiff’s leg to be crushed, requiring it to be amputated.

The plaintiff applied for and received workers’ compensation benefits. After receiving the workers’ compensation benefits, the plaintiff sued the employer for negligence and gross negligence. The plaintiff argued that despite receiving workers’ compensation benefits, the suit was permitted under a state law that allowed for a suit in cases where a defendant has a specific intent to injure the plaintiff. A jury found in the plaintiff’s favor. However, the state’s supreme court reversed the decision, finding the accident did not meet the exception under state law because it did not amount to a “genuine intentional injury.” The court explained that although there was evidence the supervisor deliberately ignored the risk of a collapse of the crane, there was no evidence that the supervisor believed the equipment would break and collapse, and that it would collapse on top of the plaintiff, who was standing beyond the construction barricade. Therefore, the court found insufficient evidence that the supervisor intended to injure the plaintiff, and the court rendered judgment for the employer.

In Maryland, the Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) requires employers to pay benefits to employees that suffer an accidental injury at work. The benefits are issued to injured employees regardless of whether the employer was at fault for the employee’s injury. The benefits provided through the Act generally bar subsequent civil claims against employers through a rule known as the exclusivity rule. A recent case shows how a claim may even be barred against one entity after receiving workers’ compensation benefits from a separate entity.

In that case, the plaintiff suffered an injury while he was working as a foreman removing trees. He was working along with five employees at a job at a client’s house, and at one point, a vehicle known as a bucket truck rolled backward and pinned the plaintiff between it and a dump truck. As other employees apparently attempted to remove the truck, the truck was set in motion, causing the plaintiff further injury. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident and was permanently disabled.

The plaintiff received workers’ compensation benefits from the insurance carrier for Mulch-N-More, a company that provided mulching services. The plaintiff then filed a complaint in court, alleging that another entity, Mike’s Professional Tree Service (MPTS), was negligent. MPTS was a separate, affiliated entity owned by the same person. MPTS claimed that the plaintiff could not file suit against MPTS because he had already received workers’ compensation benefits, and his claim was barred under the Act.

Maryland’s Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act), first enacted in 1914, generally requires employers to pay workers’ compensation benefits to employees who suffer an accidental injury during the course of their employment, regardless of whether the employer was at fault. The Act is designed to ensure employees the right to quick compensation for their workplace injuries, while also taking away their rights to sue their employers for negligence. This means that a claimant can often not seek damages in a subsequent civil suit, though there are exceptions. In a recent opinion, a state court considered whether an employee could recover from a co-employee after settling her workers’ compensation claim.

The plaintiff was an employee at a human services agency. He was attacked by one of the company’s clients and filed a workers’ compensation claim for his injuries. The parties settled the claim. The plaintiff then filed suit in district court against her supervisor on a theory of gross negligence. The supervisor argued that he was protected under the settlement. The state’s supreme court explained that the state’s law allowed injured employees who had received workers’ compensation benefits to file claims against co-employees in the case of gross negligence. Thus the claim generally would have been permitted. However, the court agreed with the supervisor, finding that the language in the terms of the settlement extinguished the plaintiff’s gross negligence claim. The court found that the language in the settlement agreement was broad and released all employees of the employer for all liability. Thus, the court ruled against the employee and dismissed the case.

Filing Suit After a Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act Claim

Each year, thousands of employees are injured in Maryland workplace accidents. While a Maryland workers’ compensation claim may be an injured worker’s sole remedy in some cases, that is not the case when a non-employer third party is responsible for the worker’s injuries. Thus, being able to identify a third party who was responsible for a worker’s injuries may allow an injured worker to pursue a Maryland personal injury case in addition to a workers’ compensation claim.

Product liability claims are common in Maryland third-party workplace accident cases because the dangerous or defective nature of a product rarely implicates an employer’s negligence. A recent case illustrates the type of situation in which an employee may be able to pursue a product liability claim after being injured on the job.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was performing electrical work on a construction site while standing atop a 12-foot ladder. As the plaintiff was working, an air conditioning unit that was anchored into the concrete ceiling came loose, striking the plaintiff. The plaintiff fell off the ladder, landing on the ground. As a result of the fall, the plaintiff sustained serious injuries.

Earlier this month, a construction worker in New York who was injured on the job collected $5 million in compensation after accepting a settlement offered by his former employer and the property owner where the injury occurred.

According to one local news report, the accident occurred back in 2008 in Buffalo, New York, when an on-the-job fall caused the plaintiff to tear his rotator cuff and puncture his lung, and also gave him eight herniated discs. As a result of the fall, the plaintiff needed to undergo several follow-up corrective surgeries in order to get him as close to his previous condition as possible.

The plaintiff filed suit against both the general contractor that employed him, as well as the property owner where the fall occurred. However, at trial, the defendants asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming, among other things, that the plaintiff’s injuries were not caused by the fall but were pre-existing at the time of the fall. They also argued that the plaintiff failed to take a safer available route while on the job.

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Maryland workers’ compensation laws provide an avenue for workers in the state to get relatively straightforward relief for injuries that arise out of their work. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has limited the scope of the state’s workers’ compensation laws. In its opinion earlier this year in Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority v. Williams, the court held that a worker who sustains a second work injury may recover under workers’ compensation only if that second injury was directly related to the first injury.

In that case, an employee of the WMATA injured his back and knee while working. He started physical therapy as part of the rehabilitation process, and en route to one physical therapy session, he was hit by a car. As a result of the accident, the employee injured his other knee. He sought to recover workers’ compensation benefits for this injury to his other knee.

The employee argued that he should be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for the second injury because if not for his first injury, which undisputedly qualified for those benefits, he would not have suffered the second injury. The WMATA argued that the appropriate question was not whether the second injury would have occurred without the first injury, but whether the second injury occurred as a direct result of the first.

The court sided with the WMATA, finding an insufficient causal link between the employee’s first injury and his second. The court held that for a second injury to be recoverable under workers’ compensation, it had to be proximally related to the first injury. That is, the first injury must not only be the actual (“but for”) cause of the second injury, but it must also be the legal cause. Legal, or proximate cause, is established by a finding of a “direct and material relationship” between the two events.

Applying that standard to the facts in the case, the court found that the negligent actions of a driver caused the employee’s second injury and were not at all connected to the first injury, other than the “fortuitous fact that the first injury placed [the employee] in the lot.”

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In a suit brought by a professional football team and its insurer challenging a decision by the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission (the “Commission”), the Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a former football player who sustained career-ending injuries during a game. The court ruled in Pro-Football, Inc. v. Tupa that the Commission has jurisdiction over the player’s claim, that his injuries were “accidental,” and that he is therefore eligible for compensation under the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act.

Thomas Tupa entered into a four-year contract in March 2004 with Pro-Football, Inc., which operates the Washington Redskins professional football team. Tupa would play the punter position on the team. Pro-Football is a Maryland corporation that owns the stadium where the team plays its home games, FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. The teams practice and warm-up facilities are located in Virginia. Tupa’s contract includes a clause that gives the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission jurisdiction over disputes between the parties.

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A former Pennsylvania road worker who was paralyzed by a drunk driver as he directed traffic has reached a workers’ compensation settlement agreement for $3 million. This is believed to be one of the largest settlements in the U.S. In getting to this point, he has also gone through a Dram Shop Act lawsuit and a bad faith insurance claim.

Joseph Tuski was directing traffic on January 17, 2001 in Warminster, Pennsylvania. At about 10:30 a.m., a car driven by Michael Petaccio struck him. Petaccio reportedly sped around a line of cars Tuski had stopped, hitting Tuski and throwing him about sixty feet. The accident rendered Tuski a quadriplegic, and he must spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair with 24-hour care. Petaccio had reportedly just left the Ivyland Cafe, a bar in Warminster owned by Petaccio’s family where Petaccio was the manager. Petaccio pleaded no contest to driving under the influence and aggravated assault later that year, and he was sentenced to three years in prison but received work release.

Tuski first filed suit against Petaccio and the Ivyland Cafe, claiming negligence and Dram Shop Act liability. Dram Shop Acts hold businesses who serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals liable for damages subsequently caused due to that person’s intoxication. Tuski presented evidence that, at the time, he had $1.6 million in medical bills and future medical expenses of at least 12 million. A Philadelphia jury awarded Tuski an enormous but largely symbolic verdict in 2004 totalling $75.6 million in damages. This included $50.6 million in compensatory and $25 million in punitive damages, but neither defendant had the ability to pay such an amount. Petaccio only had $100,000 in liability insurance coverage, while The Ivyland Cafe had coverage of $1 million.

After the verdict, the bar lost its appeal, although a judge cut the jury’s award in half. The bar’s insurer then reportedly refused to pay the policy limits of the award. Tuski sued the insurance company for bad faith refusal to pay a claim. Although a plaintiff in an injury case has no direct relationship with a defendant’s insurer, since the insurance company’s obligation to pay is based on a contractual relationship with the defendant, many states allow a plaintiff to pursue an insurer for payment of a specific award. In this case, the bar assigned its rights under its insurance contract to Tuski. In June 2007, Tuski reached a settlement with the insurance company for $20 million.

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