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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