Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission Barred from Adjusting Past Award
The Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission (the Commission) is not allowed to change the rates of past benefit awards, according to this decision by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. This appellate court determined that Maryland law only permits the Commission to change future awards of workers’ compensation benefits in limited circumstances.
To gain an in-depth understanding of this legal development, it will be helpful to review pertinent background information before moving to an analysis of the legal decision.
On September 17, 2011, a correctional officer sustained an accidental injury while performing work duties for Montgomery County. Thereafter, the officer filed a workers’ compensation claim with the Commission.
The Commission reviewed this claim for benefits during a hearing on April 26, 2012. A few days later, the Commission determined that the officer sustained a permanent partial disability and granted his claim for benefits. The officer received a weekly rate of $157 for a total of 70 weeks.
But the Commission failed to account for the higher benefit rates available to public safety officers under Maryland law. As a result, the officer received a lower rate of benefits than he should have.
On March 22, 2016, the officer filed a request with the Commission to retroactively adjust his award of benefits to $314 per week. The Commission approved this request and ordered an adjustment of the officer’s workers’ compensation benefits.
Then Montgomery County filed an appeal in court. Upon initial review, the Circuit Court decided that the Commission acted properly. So Montgomery County filed an appeal with the Court of Special Appeals.
After reviewing applicable evidence and arguments, the Court of Special Appeals determined that the Commission could not adjust the officer’s benefits on a retroactive basis.
On one hand, the Court of Special Appeals underlined that the officer did not file a timely appeal in 2012, when the Commission made the final award of benefits. In order to correct an error in the benefit rate, there should have been an appeal much sooner. After complete payout of all benefits, however, it is too late to file such an appeal.
On the other hand, the Court of Special Appeals highlighted the precise language of the Maryland Code of Labor & Employment. Under the law, the Commission is only authorized to adjust future awards if there is evidence of aggravation, diminution, or termination of disability. This section does not authorize the Commission to adjust past awards after complete payout of benefits.
As a result, the Court of Special Appeals reversed the Circuit Court’s decision and sent the case back for further proceedings. The Court of Special Appeals instructed the Circuit Court to prepare an order and strike down the Commission’s rate adjustment.
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