Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Maryland Workers’ Compensation Regulations are Unambiguous with regard to Statute of Limitation

The highest court in Maryland, the Court of Appeals of Maryland, recently reversed a decision by the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission (“MD WCC”) finding that, as the regulations state, a claim is not considered filed until a paper copy is received by the MD WCC.

The MD WCC is making great strides in advancing the electronic filing system for workers’ compensation claims and a claimant is currently able to file his claim on line; however, regulation states a “claim that is submitted electronically is not considered filed until the signed claims form, including the authorization for disclosure of health information, is received by the Commission.” COMAR

In Hranicka v. Chesapeake Surgical Ltd., et al., 2015 Md. LEXIS 413 (2015), the employer filed an Employer’s First Report of Injury (“SF1”) on January 21, 2010, which was about two weeks after the injury.  Hranicka, the injured worker, filed an electronic claim on January 17, 2012, which would have been within the requisite two year statute of limitations (two years beginning from the date of the SF1). See Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Emp. § 9-709.  As required by the MD WCC regulations, a paper copy of the claims form was then filed with the MD WCC a day after the two year statute of limitations expired.  COMAR

The MD WCC, giving deference to the injured worker, ruled that because the electronic filing was submitted timely, his claim was, thus, considered timely filed.  The Circuit Court of Baltimore City, on appeal from the MD WCC, agreed and also found for the claimant.  The employer sought review of the decision with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.  In an unreported decision, the intermediate appellate court found in favor of the employer.

The claimant then sought review by the Court of Appeals of Maryland, which granted the petition for writ of certiorari.  The Court ruled that the MD WCC’s regulations were not ambiguous and, therefore, there was no deference owed to the claimant.  The Court stated that the regulations, written by the MD WCC, clearly state the claim is considered filed when the paper claim is received by the MD WCC.  Despite the advances in the electronic filing system and wide acceptance of electronic filing throughout Maryland’s judiciary, the claim was ruled to be filed beyond the statute of limitations because of the lack of timely paper filing. 

The Court made note that this ruling did not preclude the MD WCC from changing its regulations to accommodate a claimant in such a situation, but, as the regulations as they stand, they were quite clear on the filing process and when a claim is deemed “filed”.

In Hranicka, the filing of the SF1, by the employer, was essential.  The regulations require an SF1 to be filed, if an injured worker misses more than three days of work.  If the injured worker does not miss more than three days of work, and an SF1 is not filed, the statute will start on the date of injury.  It is key to coordinate the filing of the SF1 between the employer and the insurer to be sure it is properly and timely filed, causing the statute of limitations to start.  Additionally, every case should be reviewed for timeliness as a matter of course. 

Contributed by Alicyn Campbell

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