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Workers’ Compensation Claims


Construction worker has an accident while working on new house

Job-Related Injuries

In 1914, Maryland adopted workers’ compensation laws in order to provide relief to workers injured on the job. The workers’ compensation laws are administered by the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission. Legal issues are decided by commissioners who are appointed by the governor. Commissioners are essentially like administrative law judges. If either party appears before a commissioner and is not happy with the commissioner’s decision, they can appeal to the Circuit Court of Maryland where the injured worker resides. The injured worker is called the claimant.  
 
Workers’ compensation laws provide the injured worker (and his/her dependents in death claims) a no-fault remedy against the employer and the employer’s insurance company to receive certain benefits for accidents that arise out of, and in the course of, their employment. Unlike other kinds of accident cases, fault or negligence is usually not relevant. In other words, if you are injured on the job, you would most likely be entitled to benefits regardless of who was at fault. Occupational diseases are also covered under the workers’ compensation laws. Examples of occupational diseases are carpal tunnel syndrome and exposure to toxic chemicals. In some situations, however, fault is relevant. Examples include, but are not limited to:
  • Employee is impaired by drugs or alcohol
  • Employee is fooling around on the job (horseplay)
  • Employee is in an area where he/she should not be
  • Employee has taken a personal detour away from his job
  • Employee is going to or coming from his/her employment (the “going and coming” rule)
  • Employee is an independent contractor
With respect however to the “going and coming,” rule there are exceptions where injuries suffered while traveling are covered under the workers’ compensation laws. With respect to the independent contractor status, the employee/employer relationship is closely examined to determine, among other things, the degree of supervision the employer exercises over the employee. However, workers’ compensation laws are liberally construed in favor of the injured worker and any uncertainty in the law is to be resolved in favor of the claimant.  
 
Every employer in Maryland must purchase workers’ compensation insurance or be properly self-insured. Workers’ compensation insurance policies provide coverage for the various benefits claimed by injured workers. Those benefits include, but are not limited to:
  • Lost wages, called temporary total disability benefits (2/3 of your average weekly wage not to exceed 100% of the average weekly wage of the State of Maryland)
  • Payment of medical bills per the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s fee schedule
  • Mileage reimbursement
  • Vocational rehabilitation and/or job placement
  • Monetary settlement for any permanent bodily injury, called either permanent partial disability, serious disability, or permanent total disability
Because employers are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance, injured employees give up the right to sue their employer. So for example, if a worker is injured because of a dangerous condition created by the employer, the injured worker would not be able to sue their employer and would be limited to only workers’ compensation benefits. Conversely, the employer could not escape liability by claiming that the injured worker was negligent, i.e. caused his/her own injury because he/she was not careful. Also, the employer is prohibited from discharging an employee solely because he/she filed a workers’ compensation claim. There are, however, some situations in which an injured worker can file a workers’ compensation claim and still sue a third party. In these complex situations, any money paid by the workers’ compensation insurance company is usually paid back when the third-party claim is settled. An example would be if an employee delivers products for his employer and while in the course of his employment is injured in a motor vehicle accident because of another driver’s negligence. Another example is when an employee is injured by a defective tool or piece of machinery provided by his employer but manufactured or maintained by a third party. These situations, however, become very complex and require competent legal representation.

How Are Monetary Settlements Determined, and How Does Your Lawyer Get Paid?

Every case is different. Awards are determined by the percentage of the claimant’s disability, which is determined by disability ratings. The employer and the claimant each obtain ratings, typically from independent doctors who have not participated in the claimant’s regular medical treatment. Once these ratings have been obtained and exchanged, the claimant’s attorney and the employer’s insurance company and/or attorney attempt to reach a settlement. Each body part has a different value. Those values are codified in the Maryland Annotated Code, Labor and Employment Article, §9-627. For example, a finger is worth less than a hand; a hand is worth less than an arm; the arm is worth less than a leg; a leg is worth less than the back; and so forth and so on. Once the parties agree on the percentage of the claimant’s disability, a formula is used to determine the monetary value of the injury. The lawyer’s fee is based on the amount of the award. The lawyer’s fee is established by state law and must be approved by the Workers’ Compensation Commission. A lawyer’s fee in workers’ compensation cases is lower than the fees in other kinds of accident cases, such as automobile accident cases, where the fee is usually one-third (1/3) of the total award or settlement. In fact, the percentage of the lawyer’s fee decreases as the claimant’s award increases.  
 
With respect to settlement options, a case can be settled “full and final,” settled by “stipulation,” or settled at a hearing before the Workers’ Compensation Commission. When a case is settled “full and final,” the case is closed forever and the claimant is not entitled to any future benefits of any kind. Typically, the claimant will be awarded more money in exchange for closing his/her case permanently. When a case is closed by “stipulation,” or after a hearing, the case can be reopened in the future to allow for future benefits. If a claimant’s disability increases or needs additional medical treatment, the claim can be reopened. There is, however, certain statute of limitation periods that apply to re-opening the claim.    
 
Our lawyers have almost 30 years of experience in handling workers’ compensation claims. Don’t put your future or your family’s future in the hands of just any lawyer. Workers’ compensation laws are complex and unique, and should be handled by an attorney experienced in workers’ compensation laws. If you have been injured on the job, call us immediately. There are documents that must be filed with the Workers’ Compensation Commission in a timely manner in order to preserve your future rights. Filing a report of injury with your employer DOES NOT PROTECT YOUR FUTURE RIGHTS. Furthermore, the medical treatment that you receive immediately after the accident can have a significant effect on your case. It is important that you seek medical attention from doctors who understand the workers’ compensation laws and who are looking out for your best interests, not the employer’s best interest.
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