In Electrical General Corp. v. Labonte, 229 Md.App. 187 (2016), a case discussed in the winter 2017 issue of Franklin & Prokopik’s First Report, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals provided additional guidance regarding the effect of a subsequent intervening accident on a claimant’s entitlement to workers’ compensation disability benefits. There, the state’s intermediate appellate court affirmed a decision of the lower court to overturn a decision of the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission, which denied a claimant additional permanent disability benefits. More recently in July 2017, the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, affirmed the Court of Special Appeals. Specifically, the high Court held a subsequent intervening event does not necessarily preclude an award of increased permanent partial disability benefits.
On September 2, 2004, Michael Labonte sustained a compensable work-related back injury and received medical and indemnity benefits from his employer, Electric General Corporation. On December 31, 2006, Mr. Labonte reinjured his back during an altercation with a police officer outside the scope of his employment. Mr. Labonte subsequently received an Award of permanent disability benefits in 2007. The Commission found Mr. Labonte had sustained 30% permanent disability to his back, with 20% attributable to the 2004 work accident and 10% attributable to pre-existing and subsequent conditions. When Mr. Labonte returned to the Commission in 2012 seeking additional benefits for an alleged increase in permanent partial disability due to his back condition, the Commission found no increased disability related to the 2004 work accident. On appeal, a jury reversed the Commission’s decision and found Mr. Labonte’s back complaints were related to his work injury. The jury awarded Mr. Labonte both increased permanency benefits as well as medical treatment and expenses. As noted above, following an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, that court then affirmed the jury’s decision. The Court of Appeals granted Electric General’s petition for certiorari in December 2016.
Before the Court of Appeals, Electric General reiterated arguments made previously, namely that when the Commission makes a finding of disability due in part to a subsequent intervening injury (such as the Commission’s 2007 permanency award with apportionment for Mr. Labonte’s 2006 back injury), the employer and insurer are no longer liable for benefits or treatment. Electric General relied, in part, on Martin v. Allegany County Bd. of County Com’rs, 73 Md.App. 695 (1988), wherein the court shifted the liability for temporary total disability benefits from one employer to another where the claimant had an intervening accident with the second employer. Ultimately in Martin, the Court of Appeals held it is the final accident contributing to the disability which provides the basis for liability for temporary total disability benefits.
Rather than relying on Martin, the Court of Appeals in Labonte looked to its decision in Reeves Motor Co. v. Reeves, 204 Md. 576 (1954). In Reeves, the Court of Appeals reversed an award for permanent partial disability benefits because a subsequent surgery broke the causal connection between the work incident and the permanent partial disability. In that case, the Court reasoned it was proper to deny permanent partial disability benefits, given there was no evidence that the ongoing disability remained causally related to the work injury. Accordingly, the Labonte Court applied Reeves and reasoned that permanent partial disability is possible despite an intervening event, so long as there is evidence that at least some permanent partial disability remains causally related to the work injury. Any permanent partial disability that is unrelated to the work injury would not be the responsibility of the employer and insurer.
Labonte suggests a claimant’s subsequent injury does not preclude an employer and insurer from all liability, at least where permanent partial disability benefits are involved. As a practical matter, however, the Commission may still weigh the severity of the subsequent injury and the nature of the treatment involved when apportioning an award of permanent disability. Additionally, Martin still provides clear authority that where a subsequent injury is the basis for at least part of a claimant’s disability, there may be no further liability for temporary total disability benefits.
For more information about this article, please contact John Archibald at 410.230.3064 or firstname.lastname@example.org.