Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

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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Two recent worksite accidents on November 2, 2011 resulted in serious burn injuries to a welder in one instance and a laundry worker in the other. At a granite quarry operated by Vulcan Materials in Kennesaw, Georgia, a welder was shocked by a high-voltage power line, receiving critical, but not life-threatening, burns. He was using a bucket truck to lift materials when the truck boom made contact with a 4,160-volt power line. Another man was apparently trapped on the crane during the incident, but was not injured. The burn victim was taken to an Augusta hospital’s burn center for treatment. The company that operates the power lines, along with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, is reportedly investigating the incident.

A laundry worker at a commercial laundry plant near Rome in northwest Georgia was severely burned in a steam pipe explosion. A pipe allegedly ruptured in the early evening, with sufficient force to blow out a wall nearby. Only two employees and one contractor were present in the plant at the time, according to news reports, and only one injury was reported. The Rome Fire Department and Floyd County EMS responded to the incident, and the Rome Fire Marshal is reportedly conducting an investigation.

Fortunately, no one was killed in either incident. Cases such as these demonstrate the risks present at construction and industrial worksites and the difficulty in determining liability for individual injuries. The workers’ compensation system provides a mechanism for workers injured on the job to recover damages from their employers. The system has many legal restrictions, and the process of making and recovering on a claim can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Workers’ compensation is also generally only available in situations where a worker can make a claim directly against an employer. Worksites often involve multiple contractors ands employers with a tangled web of relationships.

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A jury has awarded $2.4 million to the family of Daniel Edwards for his Maryland wrongful death. Edwards died from mesothelioma in 2008.

His families said that he developed mesothelioma lung cancer from moving bags of asbestos for six years during the 60’s and 70’s while employed with National Gypsum. They contend that Union Carbide supplied and mined the asbestos and did not warn workers about the risks associated with exposure to asbestos even though they allegedly knew about the link between mesothelioma and asbestos two years before Edwards started working at the product manufacturer. Union Carbide’s lawyers have argued that it was National Gypsum’s job to warn its employees about the dangers of asbestos exposure.

However, a Baltimore City jury found that it was Union Carbide who was responsible for Edwards’ work-related disease. Because of the state’s cap on damages, the Maryland wrongful death award was lowered to $2.2 million.

At John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on Thursday morning, a gunman who became distraught about his mother’s medical care shot and injured a doctor before turning the gun on his mom and himself. Paul Warren Pardus the alleged shooter, and his mother Jean did not survive their injuries.

According to police, Pardus, 50, shot orthopedic physician David Cohen in his upper abdomen and chest. Cohen, who specializes in scoliosis, scoliosis, and osteoporosis, had to undergo surgery and is expected to make a full recovery.

A little over two hours after Cohen was shot, a SWAT team determined that Pardus, who was in his mother’s hospital room, had fallen to the ground. When they entered the room, they saw that both he and his mom were dead from gunshot wounds to the head.

A jury in Baltimore County is ordering Keibler-Thompson Co. to pay a Maryland welder over $3 million for a crushed leg injury he sustained at work in 1999. James Morris, 58, was seriously injured on his first day working as a welder at the Beth Steel Sparrows Point plant. Morris had been hired by a general contractor to reline a blast furnace.

A Bethlehem Steel dump truck, involved in Keibler’s cleaning project, rolled down an incline, crushing Morris’s leg. The welder was hospitalized for 1 month. He has not been able to perform his job since then.

Morris’s personal injury lawyer described how the truck’s wheels did not have chocks to keep it from rolling back. While the Keibler-Thompson Co.’s attorney argued that the defendant was only liable for the routine cleaning project and that the contractor that hired both the cleaning company and Morris should be held liable for the catastrophic accident, the jury disagreed.

The Baltimore County jury awarded Morris over $2.2 million in economic damages and $952,000 in non-economic damages, which Maryland will cap at $560,000.

Bethlehem Steel was also a defendant in the personal injury lawsuit until it filed for bankruptcy.

Work-related accidents often result in catastrophic injuries, and many injured workers are unable to ever return to their jobs.

Although Maryland’s worker’s compensation law prevents injured workers and their families from suing an employer, there may be a third party that is also responsible for your injury accident.

Our Maryland and Washington D.C. catastrophic injury attorneys have helped many injured workers obtain recovery from liable third parties. Often, workers’ compensation will not be enough to cover all medical costs and economic losses. Filing a third-party lawsuit can help you recover additional compensation.

Welder whose leg was crushed at Beth Steel plant wins $3M, The Daily Record, April 29, 2008

Related Web Resources:

Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission

Keibler-Thompson Co.

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The body of Wayne Kerr, a Maryland construction foreman employed by Centerline Construction Co., was found on Thursday at the bottom of a shaft in the Constellation Energy Group Headquarters in Baltimore.

Kerr, 55, was last seen by coworkers on Wednesday and did not return home from work. His wife called Centerline Construction yesterday morning to see if anyone had seen him.

Coworkers noticed his truck parked near the worksite. They discovered his body by paging his cell phone and listening for its beeps.

Baltimore homicide detectives and the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health are investigating the incident for the cause of death.

Falls are the number one cause of construction worker-related fatalities.

Other common causes of construction injuries and deaths:

• Scaffolding accidents
• Electric shock
• Explosions
• Fires
• Compressed gases accidents
• Welding accidents
• Machinery accidents
• Trench collapses
• Motor vehicle-related injuries
• Being hit by falling or heavy equipment or materials

Although construction workers (and their families) cannot sue their employers for work-related injuries, they are entitled to receive workers compensation benefits for injuries, lost wages, medical expenses, disability, or the death.

If a third-party that is not the employer was responsible for causing the construction accident, the injured party may be able to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

Our Maryland and Washington D.C. personal injury law firm would be happy to discuss your case with you.

Missing construction foreman found dead near Inner Harbor, Baltimore Sun, February 15, 2008

Related Web Resources:

Maryland Occupational Safety and Health

Constellation Energy Group Headquarters

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