Statutory exception leaves Board responsible for tort judgment
The general rule is that workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for injured workers who are hurt in the course of employment. In other words, the “exclusivity rule” in Maryland’s Workers’ Compensation Act’s (“the Act”) prohibits the injured worker from suing his or her employer in tort for damages that arise out of one’s employment.
That said, when an injury is the result of the negligence of a co-worker, the injured workers may apply for workers’ compensation benefits in addition to filing a lawsuit against the responsible co-worker in his or her individual capacity. This is commonly referred to as a third-party claim. Furthermore, due to the exclusivity rule, the employer of the injured worker is not usually a party to the third-party action. However, when a third-party claim is against a co-worker who is an employee of a county board of education, different rules apply.
In Board of Educ. of Prince George’s County v. Marks-Sloan, 428 Md. 1 (2012), the Court of Appeals held that § 5-518 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings (“CJP”) Article operates as a statutory exception to the exclusivity rule. Specifically, CJP § 5-518 provides indemnification from tort damages for employees of a county board of education “in situations where the employee has acted within the scope of employment without malice or gross negligence.” Marks-Sloan, 428 Md. at 32. Therefore, a third-party action may be brought against a co-worker in his or her individual capacity, but the board of education must be joined as a party to the action for purposes of indemnification. Id.
In Marks-Sloan, the Claimant was an employee of the Board of Education of Prince George’s County and was injured on a motorcycle while traveling on an access road from a school bus parking lot. The injury occurred when the Claimant was forced off of the road by her co-worker’s negligent operation of a school bus that was traveling in the opposite direction on the same road. The Claimant applied for and received a workers’ compensation award before subsequently bringing suit in a court of law.
The Court held that the Act’s exclusivity rule was not violated by joining the board of education as a party in the third-party claim against the negligent co-worker. The Court explained that CJP § 5-518 permitted a judgement of liability to be entered against both the co-worker and the board, but that the responsibility for satisfying said judgment would be with the county board alone. Put differently, CJP § 5-518 provides employees of a county board of education with immunity from damages but not immunity from liability. Lastly, because the Claimant had first applied for and received workers’ compensation, the Court held that the board of education was “entitled to reimbursement for any workers’ compensation paid or awarded to the employee as of the date of the tort judgment.” Id. at 33 (citing Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 9-902)).