There are several bills dealing with workers’ compensation matters in the General Assembly this year. A bill that would allow commission decisions to be emailed and a bill that would expand punishment for employers who retaliate against workers who file workers’ compensation claims are making the rounds in Annapolis.
Under Senate Bill 65, copies of decisions by the Workers’ Compensation Commission would be sent by electronic means if the party or their attorney consents in writing. Presently, 30 days after a hearing is held, WCC must send a copy by first-class mail. The Senate passed the bill by a 42-0 vote; it’s now before the House. If passed into law, the bill would be become effective on October 1, 2013.
Senate Bills 263 deals with awards of attorney’s fees and expenses in civil actions. The bill authorizes a court to award reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses to a prevailing party in any civil action that has resulted in the enforcement of an important right that is secured by the Maryland Constitution, the Maryland Declaration of Rights, or a State law and affects the public interest. There is a companion bill in the House – HB 0130. If passed into law, the bill would become effective October 1.
In general, a party to a lawsuit is responsible for his/her legal fees, regardless of the outcome of the case. However, there are over 80 exceptions to this general rule in State law, including wage and hour cases, worker’s compensation cases, and consumer protection cases. California, Connecticut and Massachusetts have statutes authorizing the awarding of attorney’s fees to prevailing plaintiffs in claims filed under the constitutions or civil rights acts of those states.
Senate Bill 311 specifies that an employer (or its insurer) may be entitled to a credit for compensation paid to a covered employee who is temporarily totally disabled due to an accidental personal injury or an occupational disease if the employee’s medical treatment for the injury or disease is delayed or suspended due solely to an unrelated injury, disease, or medical condition. The credit must be allowed only for compensation paid during the period in which employee’s medical treatment was delayed or suspended. The companion bill is House Bill 654. The bill was first introduced in 2009. If passed into law, it would become effective on October 1, 2013
Temporary total disability is paid as a wage replacement while the injured employee is unable to work due an accidental personal injury or an occupational disease. An injured employee may remain on temporary total disability until the employee reaches maximum medical improvement — meaning that the employee’s condition reaches a state where it can no longer improve. At that point, the employee’s condition is assessed and a degree of total or partial impairment is determined. The degree of impairment determines the amount of permanent disability benefits the employee receives. In general, the employer or its insurer must pay for the period that the covered employee is temporarily disabled, compensation that equals two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly wage.
Senate Bill 609 is an anti-retaliation bill. It would expand the law that forbids employers from discharging a covered employee who files a claim for workers’ compensation. This bill prohibits an employer from retaliating in any way against a covered employee because the employee has filed a claim for workers’ compensation. Criminal penalties would be applied to violations of the Act. In addition, the bill authorizes covered employees to bring civil actions against employers in instances of employer retaliation and courts would be allowed to grant specified relief.
Under current law, an employer may not discharge a covered employee from employment solely because the covered employee files a claim for workers’ compensation. A person that violates this prohibition is guilty of a misdemeanor and, on conviction, is subject to a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment for up to one year.
House bill 595 is the companion bill. If passed into law, the bill would become effective October 1.
Senate Bill 681 deals with the statute of limitations for medical presumptions. This bill extends by two years – from December 1, 2012, to December 1, 2014 – the date by which a medical expert must conduct a specified study and report the findings of the study to the Department of Legislative Services (DLS). In addition, the bill delays by two years – from June 1, 2013, to June 1, 2015 – the effective date of recent alterations to occupational disease presumptions for firefighters and related personnel under Chapter 445 of 2012 (HB 1101). The bill also tolls, until June 1, 2015, the statute of limitations for a covered employee who files an occupational disease claim for one of the cancers added by Chapter 445 to the list of compensable occupational diseases covered under the presumption. The bill will take effect on June 1, 2013 if passed into law. The bill is in the Senate. The companion bill in the House is HB1314.
Senate Bill 717 specifies that fees charged by a medical expert for the examination of a covered employee — the preparation of a report, testimony, or similar services — are included among the fees and other charges for medical services or treatment that the Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC) may regulate. The bill would become effective October 1, 2013 if passed into law. The companion bill in the House is HB0664.
Baltimore, Maryland-based Belsky, Weinberg & Horowitz has been fighting for clients with workers’ compensation claims for many years. Call us at 410-234-0100 or email us for a free consultation and let us help you.