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.