With multiple reported opinions addressing the offset statute in the last calendar year, the Maryland appellate courts have been busy addressing the offset provision codified in Section 9-610 of the Labor and Employment Article. The purpose of the statute is to prevent public sectors employees from receiving more than one benefit from the same injury. This statute again took center stage before the Court of Special Appeals in Rodney Crawley v. Board of Education for Prince George’s County, Maryland, et. al, with attorney Michael Bennett, who was joined in the brief by attorney David Skomba, arguing on behalf of the Board of Education. Mr. Crawley elected to retire shortly after sustaining an on-the-job injury with the Board. He filed a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Commission, and also began receiving weekly retirement benefits based upon his age and length of service. In Maryland, there is no offset for service-based retirements. Perhaps observing there was a higher payout associated with other retirement benefits tied to his work-related accident, Mr. Crawley then voluntarily converted his retirement benefit to the higher paying accident disability benefit, which compensated him at a significantly higher weekly rate.
While Mr. Crawley did not dispute that an offset was appropriate under 9-610, he urged the court that the offset should be limited to the difference in his accidental disability retirement benefit and his prior benefit based upon his age and length of service. Under Mr. Crawley’s theory, he would have been entitled to a portion of his permanent partial disability benefit through workers’ compensation, as well as the full amount of his accidental disability retirement benefit. The Court of Special Appeals rejected Mr. Crawley’s argument that merely a portion of his accidental disability retirement benefit is available for an offset. Instead, the intermediate court agreed with the Board’s position that the entire amount of Mr. Crawley’s accidental disability retirement benefit is analyzed under §9-610, which effectively fully offsets his workers’ compensation benefit. To adopt Mr. Crawley’s theory, the Court of Special Appeals noted, would violate the plain language of the statute and its clear statutory intent.
The Court of Appeals decision affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, which affirmed the original decision from the Workers’ Compensation Commission. While the decision in Crawley is unreported, the recent reported opinions from the appellate courts have been defense friendly. Thus, §9-610 remains a vital exposure mitigation instrument available for employers and insurers who cover public sector employees.