Q: What is Workers’ Compensation?


Workers’ compensation is the system established by law to ensure that employees are adequately compensated, regardless of fault, for injuries that arise out of and occur during the course of employment.  Workers’ compensation provides a percentage of an individual’s lost wages, and also covers medical bills, funeral costs, vocational rehabilitation and other similar expenses.

In Maryland, employers are required to obtain workers’ compensation insurance for their employees.  For that reason, workers’ compensation is deemed to be the exclusive remedy for most employment-related injuries.

Does my employer pay my Workers’ Comp benefits?

No, your employer does not pay your benefits; the insurance company does.  Again, Maryland employers are required to provide workers’ compensation coverage for their employees.  This can be done through the State or a private commercial carrier, or an employer can be self-insured.  If, for some reason, an employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance, then an injured worker can seek compensation through the Uninsured Employers’ Fund.

It is recommended that an injured employee retain legal representation instead of dealing with the insurance company directly.  The insurance company does not have your best interests at heart.  A seasoned attorney who knows the system can help maximize your recovery.

Can I be fired for filing a Workers’ Compensation claim?

No, employers are prohibited by law from terminating an employee simply because a claim for workers’ compensation has been made.  In fact, an employer who violates this law is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment of up to one year, a maximum fine of $500, or both.  Contact us if you think you may have a claim for wrongful termination.

Is Workers’ Compensation a lawsuit?

No, workers’ compensation is not a “lawsuit” in the traditional sense of the word.  Rather, a workers’ compensation claim is administrative in nature, and as such, proceeds before the Workers’ Compensation Commission (which is an administrative agency), instead of in a court of law (which is part of the judicial branch of government).  In the Commission, a “Claimant” is awarded workers’ compensation “benefits”; in a court of law, a “Plaintiff” seeks compensatory “damages.”  Only if the Commission’s decision is appealed will a comp case proceed to the courts.

Can I sue my employer for negligence?

No, you cannot sue your employer for negligence.  The Maryland Workers’ Compensation system is considered to be the product of compromise.  That is, employees are barred from commencing civil actions against their employers in exchange for the legal mandate that employers obtain comp insurance for their employees.  Put differently, the tradeoff is that employers are immune from civil liability, but are required to pay workers’ comp benefits regardless of fault.

However, even though an injured worker is not permitted to sue their employer for negligence, they are allowed to sue for damages if the employer intentionally causes injury.  Relatedly, a civil action may also be maintained against an employer for an injury that was caused by the intentional act of a supervisory co-worker, particularly if the co-worker is considered to be the “alter ego” of the employer.  In limited circumstances, an action at law may also be brought against an employer for the negligent hiring/retention of a fellow co-worker.

Consult an attorney if you think that any of the above is a possibility in your case.

What is a Third-Party Claim?

Though not a lawsuit in and of itself, a workers’ compensation claim may produce a collateral civil action against someone other than the Claimant’s employer. This is commonly referred to as a “third-party claim.”

For example, if a compensable injury is caused by a fellow co-worker (non-supervisory), an injured worker may file a claim for workers’ comp against his/her employer, as well as a civil suit for damages against the third-party co-worker (regardless of whether the co-worker’s conduct was intentional or negligent).  However, a collateral lawsuit for negligence may not be maintained against a supervisory co-worker in his or her individual capacity, unless he or she personally owed and breached a duty of care to the Claimant.

Another example of a third-party claim would be where an employee is injured in a car accident during the course of one’s employment (but not merely during one’s commute).  The injured worker could sue the adverse driver for damages in a court of law, in addition to filing a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Commission.

With respect to third-party claims, it is important to note that the employer has a right to subrogation for all of the benefits that the employer or its insurer actually paid.  This includes medical expenses and any disability payments.  A right to subrogation simply means that the employer is entitled to reimbursement if the injured worker obtains a civil judgment in a third-party case.

If the civil judgment is less than the comp award, the employer is only reimbursed for the amount of the judgment.  If a civil judgment is in excess of a comp award, the employer is only reimbursed for the amount that they actually paid, with all leftover money to the employee.  Therefore, there is minimal risk in filing a third-party action, because despite the employer’s right to subrogation, a Claimant should not receive less workers’ comp on account of the additional lawsuit.

Another thing that an injured worker must keep in mind with respect to filing a third-party claim is the concept of “contributory negligence,” which bars recovery in a court of law if the Plaintiff (the person who filed the lawsuit) is found to have contributed to his or her injuries.  Thus, while workers’ compensation is awarded irrespective of personal fault, the same cannot be said for third-party claims.

Talk to an attorney if you think that there may be a third-party aspect to your comp case.

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