In a recent case, a Maryland appellate court looked at how an injured worker’s permanent partial disability benefits are capped. The question was whether they were capped by the state average weekly wage in effect on the injury date, or the state average weekly wage for the year when the worker’s permanent partial disability benefits started.
The worker in the case was hurt in 1998, but he argued that his award should be based on the state average weekly wage for 2000, since that was when he established his right to an award for permanent partial disability. The Workers’ Compensation Commission rejected this argument, as did the Circuit Court and Court of Special Appeals.
The worker asked the Court of Appeals to review the case. The Court of Appeals agreed with the lower and intermediate appellate court that the applicable rate was the one in effect on the worker’s injury date. It explained that every year, the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation decides what the state average weekly wage will be. In this case, the worker was awarded 185 weeks of benefits.
The rule in effect states that if a covered worker is awarded compensation for a period of between 75-250 weeks, the employer or its insured shall pay the covered worker weekly compensation equaling 2/3 of the average weekly wage of the worker. This wage cannot exceed 1/3 of the state average weekly wage.
In the worker’s view, he was entitled to $211 in weekly benefits under the 2000 state average weekly wage. When the 1998 wage was used, he was entitled to only $191 per week.
The worker had suffered an injury while working for Potomac Abatement. He was granted a two-part award for temporary total disability to be paid retroactively up to January 2000. He was also awarded permanent partial disability benefits that would be paid for the period starting in January 2000.
The Commission ruled that the worker had lost industrial use of 30% of his body and that he deserved 150 weekly payments. This qualified him as a Tier 2 claimant of permanent partial disability benefits. Therefore, he was entitled to the lesser amount of 2/3 of his own average weekly wage or 1/3 of the state average weekly wage. In this case, 1/3 of the state average weekly wage was the applicable amount because it was lower.
The worker had filed a motion for partial summary judgment in his case, arguing for the state average weekly wage of the year the payment was due. He changed his argument to say that the award should be based on the state average weekly wage for the year his right to the award started.
The court heard the matter and denied the motion. It found that his body was 37% impaired, rather than 30% impaired. The court vacated the award and sent it back to the Commission. The worker asked the appellate court to reverse the judgment.
The worker thought the ambiguity in the cap should be resolved in his favor. However, the appellate court relied on prior case law that held that the state average weekly wage of the year of the accidental injury would be used to determine a permanent partial disability award. The date of injury generally controls the benefits received. The date of disability in an occupational disease has the same purpose as the date of occurrence in a personal injury negligence lawsuit.
If you have been hurt at work, you should report the injury to your employer and consult with an experienced Maryland workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible. Contact the attorneys of Steinhardt, Siskind and Associates at (866) 902-4111 or via our online form.
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