In Reger v. Washington County Board of Education, 455 Md. 68 (2017), the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a decision regarding the applicability of a statutory offset available to governmental employers. Franklin & Prokopik principal David Skomba presented arguments before the Court of Appeals, with F&P attorneys Barbara Thompson and Michael Bennett on brief.
Charles Reger worked as a custodian for the Washington County Board of Education (“BOE”) for 29 years. On November 12, 2007, he sustained injuries to multiple body parts, including the neck and back, in a work accident when a cafeteria table fell on top of him. As a result, Mr. Reger filed a workers’ compensation claim and applied for accidental disability retirement (“ADR”). He was ultimately awarded temporary total disability benefits by the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission and granted an ordinary disability retirement (“ODR”) for cervical spondylosis and lumbar spondylosis by the State Retirement Agency (“SRA”).
The BOE and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education Workers’ Compensation Group Self-Insurance Fund (“MABE”) filed Issues with the Commission requesting an offset of Claimant’s ODR benefits against temporary total disability benefits, pursuant to Maryland Code, Labor & Employment (“L.E.”) § 9-610. The matter went to a hearing in October 2013 before Commissioner Jeffrey Herwig who granted the requested offset and found the BOE/MABE were entitled to a credit in the amount of $54,486.50 for ordinary disability benefits previously paid, to be applied against future benefits.
Mr. Reger filed a Petition for Judicial Review in the Circuit Court for Washington County and the parties filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. Following a hearing, the Circuit Court granted summary judgment in favor of the BOE/MABE. Mr. Reger noted an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, which in an unreported opinion affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court. Mr. Reger then petitioned the Court of Appeals, which granted certiorari.
The statute at issue in this case, L.E. § 9-610, provides an offset when a covered employee of a governmental unit or quasi-public corporation receives a similar benefit to that which is provided under the workers’ compensation claim, to the extent of the payment (with the exception of offsets addressed in § 29-118 of the State Personnel and Pensions Article).
Mr. Reger’s position was that the ODR benefits granted him by SRA were not legally similar to the temporary total disability benefits he was awarded in the workers’ compensation claim. The argument provided by his attorney was twofold. First, he argued ODR benefits granted were dissimilar because they were awarded for a permanent condition, whereas the temporary total disability benefits he was receiving were awarded for a temporary condition. Second, he argued the grant of ODR benefits by SRA compensated Mr. Reger for disability from a preexisting condition, and not the acute injury resulting from the work incident (focusing on SRA’s denial of accidental disability benefits).
The BOE/MABE’s position focused on the legislative intent which was clear: there can only be one recovery for a single injury by a governmental employee covered by both a workers’ compensation and governmental pension plan. Furthermore, the benefits paid by SRA and under the workers’ compensation claim were similar as both were wage loss benefits triggered by the same injury and physical incapacity.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the lower courts and the Commission’s holding as follows:
1) The legislative intent behind the § 9-610 offset provision is to prevent governmental/quasi-public corporation employees covered by a pension plan and workers’ compensation from receiving a double recovery for the same injury; and that the language in the statute stating “payment of the benefit by the employer… for payment of similar benefits under this title,” was intended to apply only to benefits accruing from the same injury. The Court further commented that wage loss benefits are not necessarily “similar” if not awarded for the same injury as the workers’ compensation benefit.
2) As a matter of law, ODR benefits can be a similar benefit if the record reflects the cause of the incapacity for which benefits were awarded was the same workplace injury (accidental injury or occupational disease) that was the basis for the workers’ compensation benefit.
3) The record in this case confirms the ODR benefits paid to Mr. Reger were based on the same injury as his temporary total disability benefits
4) The Commission did not err in its determination that the offset provision in L.E. § 9-610 applies in this case.
The Court of Appeals did not explicitly overrule the prior Court of Special Appeals decision in Zakwieia v. Baltimore County, 231 Md.App. 644 (2017), wherein the court found the offset applicable by analyzing the “nature of the benefit” versus the “nature of the injury.” Although the Court in Reger states a benefit that compensates an injured worker for wage loss is not necessarily a similar benefit unless awarded for the same injury, the Court gave the Commission wide latitude to consider relevant facts or argument submitted (in support of the request for each benefit) in determining whether the offset applies.
For more information about this article, please contact Barbara Thompson at 410.230.3052 or email@example.com.