Maryland Code, Labor and Employment (LE) § 9-610 generally provides governmental/quasi-governmental employers with an offset against workers’ compensation indemnity benefits when the employer provides a covered employee with a “similar benefit.” Typically, this occurs in situations where the covered employee is receiving both workers’ compensation indemnity and disability pension benefits. The legislative intent behind the statute is to ensure one recovery for one injury for the benefit of the employer, employee, and public fisc alike.
Over the years, there has been a great deal of litigation defining what constitutes a “similar benefit.” The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland in Zakwieia v. Baltimore County, Board of Education, 231 Md. App. 644 (2017) has provided further guidance in this regard by holding the proper analysis of the term “similar benefit” surrounds the “nature of the benefit” versus the “nature of the injury.”
Marcee Zakwieia sustained compensable work related injuries to her back and right shoulder on December 13, 2007 while working for the Board of Education of Baltimore County (“Board”) and was paid benefits for the same. Following the work injury, Ms. Zakwieia applied for accidental disability retirement (“ADR”) benefits resulting from the December 13, 2007 work injury. Although she was denied ADR benefits, she was granted ordinary disability retirement (“ODR”) benefits for conditions including degenerative arthritis of the lumbar spine.
Ms. Zakwieia impleaded the Subsequent Injury Fund (“SIF”) into her workers’ compensation claim. The matter ultimately proceeded to a hearing before the Workers’ Compensation Commission (“Commission”) to address the issue of permanent partial disability at which time the Board (and the SIF) claimed, and were granted, an offset under LE § 9-610. Ms. Zakwieia appealed the Commission’s decision to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. She and the Board filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Following a hearing, the Circuit Court upheld the Commission’s decision and Ms. Zakwieia filed an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals.
Ms. Zakwieia argued the statutory offset was not appropriate because her permanent partial disability and ODR benefits were not awarded for the same injury and thus were not similar. The Board, on the other hand, argued similarity is determined by an analysis of the nature of the “benefit” and not the “injury.” The Court agreed with the Board, focusing on the well-established legislative intent of LE § 9-610, which dates back to 1914, to provide a single recovery for a single injury. The Court then turned its attention to the case of Reynolds v. Board of Education of Prince George’s County, 127 Md. App. 648 (1999), which the parties agreed was controlling. In Reynolds, the Court of Special Appeals held ordinary disability retirement benefits were tantamount to a wage loss benefit and were therefore similar to workers’ compensation permanent partial disability benefits awarded, such that the offset applied.
As a final note, Ms. Zakwieia argued it was improper to allow both the Board and the SIF the benefit of an offset under LE § 9-610. The Court rejected this argument, noting the clear and unambiguous language of the statute provides the offset to both.
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