Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Claimants’ Ability to Obtain a Permanent Partial Disability Award Affected by Prior Total Disability Retirement

Patrick Spevak v. Montgomery County, Maryland, No. 893, September Term 2020. Opinion by Beachley, J.

    Recently, the Court of Special Appeals held that when an employee who is subject to the provisions of Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 9-610(a)(1) receives a service-connected total disability retirement from his or her employer, the LE § 9-610 offset applies to any permanent total or permanent partial workers’ compensation benefits the employee is awarded for injuries or diseases related to that same employment.

    The Claimant in that case, Patrick Spevak, was employed as a firefighter for Montgomery County.  While employed, he sustained a back injury.  This caused him to retire after being granted a service-connected total disability retirement.  Since his retirement, he received service-connected total disability retirement benefits amounting to approximately 70% of his income. 

    Subsequently, Claimant’s hearing deteriorated, causing him to file a workers’ compensation claim for his occupational hearing loss.  After a hearing on the matter, the Workers’ Compensation Commission found Claimant to have a 21% permanent partial disability due to his hearing loss.  The Commission, however, also found that those benefits were completely offset under LE § 9-610(a), due to his prior service-connected total disability award which exceeded the permanent partial disability benefits awarded by the Commission. 

    Claimant appealed the matter to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County.  Both parties moved for summary judgment, and, after a hearing, the Circuit Court found in favor of Montgomery County.  Claimant appealed the matter again, this time to the Court of Special Appeals.

    Md. Code Ann., LE § 9-610(a)(1) provides that if a statute, charter, ordinance, resolution, regulation, or policy, provides a benefit to a covered employee of a governmental unit or a quasi-public corporation that is subject to this title under LE § 9-201(2) of this title, payment of the benefit by the employers satisfies, to the extent of the payment, the liability of the employer and Subsequent Injury Fund for payment of similar benefits under this title. 

    Claimant argued that in order for the two types of benefits to be considered “similar”, they must result from the same injury.  Montgomery County argued that the two types of benefits were “similar” because they both resulted from work-related injuries.  Montgomery County further argued that it made no difference whether Claimant had one or multiple work-related conditions, as the 70% payment from the service-connected total disability encompassed all work-related injuries. 

    The Court of Special Appeals, in making their decision, determined that a service-connected total disability retirement and a permanent total disability award under workers’ compensation law arising from the same employment are “similar benefits” under LE § 9-610, as the benefits paid under the service-connected disability retirement and a workers’ compensation permanent total disability award are the same whether the total disability is traceable to one body part or multiple body parts.  Furthermore, because the service-connected total disability retirement was intended to compensate an employee for any and all work-related injuries, the allowance of a permanent partial disability award would act as a double recovery.  Thus, Claimant’s permanent partial disability benefits are subject to the offset.

    This case highlights the importance of looking for other work-related benefits which may be used to offset any Awards issued by the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission.  Keep in mind that this only applies when claimant is employed by a governmental entity or quasi-public corporation. 

-Ashley M. Bond, Associate Attorney

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