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Why You Should Get An Attorney To Handle Your Maryland Workers’ Compensation Claim

Posted on: December 19, 2014

An attorney is not required in the filing of a Maryland workers’ compensation claim; nevertheless, a case that the Maryland Court of Appeals resolved earlier in 2014 demonstrates that the process can be complex and that hiring a Maryland workers’ compensation attorney early on is a prudent move.

Specifics of the Case

The case involved a Montgomery County firefighter who was on “light duty” due to a prior compensable back injury and who was assigned temporarily to fire department headquarters in Rockville instead of his regular fire station in Silver Spring.

The firefighter, under the conditions of his “light duty,” was encouraged to participate in a couple of hours of physical training at the location of his choice.  He was paid during those two hours, and if any injury had occurred during physical training, the firefighter may have had a compensable claim for Maryland workers’ compensation benefits.

Once per month, the firefighter would drive on his motorcycle from physical training he performed at a high school in Fort Washington to his permanent duty station in Silver Spring to retrieve work-related mail.  The supervisors were aware of this practice.

One day, the firefighter lost control of his motorcycle and crashed while he traveled between physical training and mail retrieval at the fire station.  The question is whether injuries sustained in the accident were compensable under workers’ compensation law.

Purpose of Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ compensation is only awarded for injuries sustained in the course of employment.  State law, under a provision known as the “going and coming rule,” generally precludes workers’ compensation for injuries sustained during the employee’s trip to and from work because such transport is not within the course of employment.

The workers’ compensation commission denied the claim.  Montgomery County Circuit Court sided with the commission and ruled that the firefighter was not entitled to workers’ compensation because the injury occurred while “he was coming and going” to work.  The Maryland Court of Special Appeals joined the chorus, holding that the employee was only at work when he was at the Rockville headquarters and he was merely going to work at the time of the accident; hence, the claim was not compensable.

The state’s highest court disagreed, holding that the physical training was work-related because it was encouraged by the county and the mail retrieval was also work-related “because the mail he was picking up was that left for him at the site and the practice of gathering the mail was one about which his supervisors were aware.  As a result, the county ‘acquiesced’ in [the employee’s] act of gathering the mail.”

Thus, the firefighter, the court reasoned, “was en route from a work-related activity to a site where he was to engage in a work-related act, to which the employer acquiesced.  His travel, therefore, was incidental to his employment.  Travel incidental to employment cannot be excluded from coverage by application of the going and coming rule.  As a result, the injury he sustained is covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act, because ‘but for’ his travel between work-related sites he would not have been injured.”

The firefighter prevailed, and the county had to pay the court costs related to the appeals.

Why Should You Hire An Attorney?

Look at all the legal work that went into ensuring that the firefighter was awarded benefits.  This is the reason that anyone who believes he or she has a valid claim should strongly consider getting an attorney involved early on.

Besides intricacies such as those explained here, there are other reasons an attorney can be a valuable asset in a Maryland workers’ compensation claim, to include very common disputes with the employer’s insurance company.  It is the insurance company, not the workers’ compensation commission or the employer, that pays the claim.  And, frankly, the insurance company does not always want to pay what the injured employee deserves.

One never knows at the outset how complicated the workers’ compensation claims process can be, and an attorney is prepared to handle complexities that may arise.  Get in touch with an experienced Maryland workers’ compensation attorney for a free consultation by calling 1-888-540-2599.

Justin Katz is a personal injury lawyer who represents injury victims in Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC
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