On the job injuries often come along with a lot of hard questions.
How will I pay my bills if cannot work?
Who will pay for my medical bills?
What do I do now?
Who can help?
Workers' (no longer "workmens") Compensation is a term that most have heard about, but few fully understand all the details. Most of us only learn about the rules of workers' compensation when we are forced to after an on-the-job injury. If you have been injured on the job, know that you are not alone (Maryland employers reported over 90,000 work injuries last year) and there are a lot of resources available to help you on your road to recovery.
Here are some important fundamentals about the workers' compensation safety net as it exists in Maryland. As with any legal question, you should always consult a trained professional to address your specific circumstances.
1. Maryland Workers' Compensation is a No-Fault System.
Anyone injured on the job (what the law calls arising out of and in the course of employment) can be entitled to workers' compensation benefits, regardless of whose fault cause the injury. You do not have to prove that your employer did something wrong to cause your injury. On the flip side, even if your employer did something to make your job unsafe, the benefits are the same. Workers' compensation is likely your only remedy if you were injured due to the ordinary negligence of your employer. This is part of the grand bargain of workers' compensation: Injured workers generally cannot sue their employers for the pain and suffering of on the job injuries; Instead, all injured employees are eligible for defined benefits through an administrative system. All employers are required to have workers' compensation insurance to cover these claims (similar to how all vehicle owners must have auto insurance). Disputes within the system are adjudicated by the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission (https://www.wcc.state.md.us), a state government agency that holds hearings and makes findings just in these kinds of cases. There are important deadlines that must be met to file and pursue your claim.
2. The Employer/Insurer should pay 100% of the reasonable and necessary medical expenses caused by a work injury.
When you have an accepted workers' compensation claim, all of your medical expenses should be paid for by your employer's workers' compensation insurance. However, as with all benefits in these claims, the burden of proof falls to the injured worker. This means that if any dispute arises, you may have to show that the medical treatment was reasonable, necessary and caused by your work injury. Fortunately, Maryland follows a generous standard on causation, meaning that if your work injury merely aggravated, accelerated or worsened a pre-existing condition, the need for treatment may still be found to be caused by your work injury. Pre-existing conditions are not an absolute bar to succeeding in your injury claim.
3. The Employer/Insurer may also owe you money for wage replacement if you cannot work while recovering from your injury.
Many of us only get paid when we work and the prospect of lost wages can be even scarier than the physical pain of an injury. The law requires wage replacement - called temporary total disability benefits - for an injured worker who is totally unable to work while they recover from their injury. These benefits can be good, but are not perfect. Firstly, the benefits are paid at two-thirds of the injured workers' average pre-injury wage. Secondly, the benefits may be capped: the maximum allowable weekly benefit is based upon the state average weekly wage ($1,116.00 per week in 2019). Thirdly, job benefit expenses normally deducted from your paycheck (e.g. health insurance) often will not be automatically deducted and need to be paid separately. One thing that does help is that temporary total disability benefits are not subject to income tax.
4. What should you do and who can help?
When you are injured on the job some basics are essential. Make sure an accurate injury report is filed with your employer. Seek any necessary medical care without delay - both to help you recover and further document the extent of your injuries. Finally, talk to a lawyer if you have any doubts or questions to make sure you are getting everything you need. Attorneys in these types of cases generally work on contingency fees, meaning they only get paid when they recover money for you and most, if not all, will provide a free consultation. Even the most basic workers' compensation cases can be tough to navigate, so please do not hesitate to contact an attorney to make sure your rights are protected.