If you were injured or got sick because of your job in Maryland, you may be eligible to receive benefits through the state workers’ compensation system. The benefits you actually receive will depend on the nature of your injuries, whether you’re able to return to work, your pre-injury earnings, and other factors unique to your case. This article explains how the most important workers’ comp benefits are calculated in Maryland. (To get these benefits, you’ll need to file a workers’ comp claim within the state’s time limits and show that your injury or illness is work related.)
Can You Get Workers’ Comp in Maryland If You Get COVID-19 on the Job?
In the context of the coronavirus pandemic and how COVID-19 is spread, most employees in Maryland are likely to have a very difficult time qualifying for workers’ comp for the disease, even if they believe they contracted the virus at work. As Maryland courts have interpreted the state’s law, workers’ comp may cover an occupational disease if you can prove that the risk of the illness is inherent in the nature of your job—to a greater extent than it is in general employment—and that your job duties actually exposed you to that risk. (Md. Code, Lab. & Emp. § 9-502 (2020); Baltimore County v. Quinlan, 215 A.3d 282 (Md. Ct. App. 2019).)
Employees in a few occupations that involve direct contact with COVID-19 patients—like first responders and some healthcare providers—will probably find it easier than most workers to meet those requirements. It’s not clear, however, how workers’ comp judges in Maryland will apply the law when it comes to other jobs that may pose a high risk of infection. In response to the pandemic, several states have enacted measures making it easier for certain frontline employees to get workers’ comp benefits for COVID-19 by presuming that the disease is work related unless the employer proves otherwise. Maryland has not joined those states.
Temporary disability benefits cover a portion of your lost wages if you’re unable to return to your regular job while you’re recovering from your on-the-job injury or illness. These benefits will continue as long as you’re temporarily disabled.
If you’re completely unable to work during your recovery, you’ll be eligible to receive temporary total disability (TTD) benefits. There’s a three-day waiting period before these benefits kick in, unless you’re off work for more than 14 days. TTD benefits are calculated as two-thirds of your average weekly wage at the time of your injury, up to the statewide average wage. For 2020, the maximum is $1,080. There’s also a $50 minimum for weekly TTD benefits unless you were earning less than that at the time of your injury. (Md. Code, Lab. & Emp. § 9-620 (2020).)
If you can return to work but aren’t able to earn your normal wages due to the temporary limitations caused by your injury or illness, you’ll receive temporary partial disability benefits equal to 50% of the difference between your pre-injury wages and your current earning capacity. For example, say your weekly wages were $1,000 at the time of your injury, but now you can earn only $600 because your doctor has limited you to light-duty or part-time work. Your temporary partial disability benefits would be $200 per week ($1,000 - $600 = $400 x .5 = $200).
The legal maximum for temporary partial disability benefits is 50% of the statewide average weekly wage ($540 for 2020). (Md. Code, Lab. & Emp. § 9-615 (2020).)
Once your treating doctor has determined that you’ve reached maximum medical improvement (meaning that your condition isn’t expected to improve, even with further treatment), you’ll be evaluated to see if your injury or illness has left you with lasting impairments—and, if so, to what extent.
If you have permanent impairments that don’t completely prevent you from working, the doctor will give you a permanent partial disability (PPD) rating, expressed in a percentage. The duration of PPD benefits will depend on the affected part or parts of your body, as well as the extent of the impairment. Here’s the basic outline of how this part of the PPD calculation works:
If you’ve received an award for less than 75 weeks, the duration of your award might be increased for up to 75 additional weeks if your impairment affects your ability to perform job duties (what’s known as “industrial loss”).
There’s a $50 minimum for the weekly amount of PPD benefits (unless you earned less than that before your injury). Otherwise, the amount varies depending on the number of weeks in your award. There are exceptions for certain injuries and for public safety employees, but the general calculation of the weekly amount is as follows:
If you’ve received more than one award for the same injury (for instance, if your injury resulted in a permanent impairment to both your neck and an arm), your weekly benefit amount will be calculated based on the total number of weeks for the combined awards.
Example: If you sustained 30% lost use of an arm plus 15% whole body impairment for a neck injury, you would receive a combined award for 165 weeks. If your pre-injury wages were $600 a week, you would receive benefits at the maximum rate for a 2020 injury ($360 per week), because two-thirds of $600 is over the limit. So your total PPD benefits would be $360 x 165, or $59,400.
Although PPD benefits are generally paid in addition to TTD benefits, Maryland law authorizes a workers’ comp judge to order an offset or credit against your PPD award for TTD or vocational rehabilitation benefits that you’ve received. (Md. Code, Lab. & Emp. §§ 9-610.1, 9-626, 9-627, 9-628, 9-629, 9-630, 9-631 (2020).)
If your injury or occupational disease has left you permanently and totally disabled, you’ll be entitled to benefits at the TTD rate, subject to the same maximum (and a $25 weekly minimum). However, these payments will be adjusted every year to reflect changes in the cost of living.
Maryland law presumes that you’re totally and permanently disabled when you’ve completely lost the use of both hands, arms, feet, legs, or eyes, or any two of those body parts. Other permanent impairments may also qualify, but only if they prevent you from performing any type of work. Permanent total disability benefits will continue as long as you are totally disabled—potentially for life. (Md. Code, Lab. & Emp. §§ 9-636, 9-637, 9-638 (2020).)
When an employee dies as a result of a work injury or illness, surviving family members who were financially dependent on the deceased worker may receive death benefits. If the deceased worker provided 100% of the family’s income, the dependents will receive weekly benefits at the full TTD rate, subject to the same maximum. However, if the deceased employee contributed only part of the family income, the amount will be reduced accordingly. For example, suppose the deceased employee had been earning $600 a week at the time of the injury, and that amount contributed 50% of the combined family income. The death benefit would be 50% of $400 (two-thirds of $600), or $200 a week. Death benefits are adjusted annually to reflect changes in the cost of living.
As a general rule, death benefits in Maryland continue for 12 years. Among the exceptions to this time limit, the payments may stop earlier when the surviving spouse remarries or children turn 18 (or 23 if they’re still full-time students). (Md. Code, Lab. & Emp. § 9-683.3 (2020).)
Maryland has separate rules for death benefits paid to surviving dependents of certain county and municipal employees.
In addition to the payments meant to cover part of lost wages, Maryland workers’ compensation pays other benefits, including:
If your employer’s insurance company has denied your workers’ comp claim, isn’t paying benefits you’re entitled to receive, or won’t authorize needed medical treatment, you should consider speaking with a Maryland workers’ compensation lawyer. A local attorney who's experienced in this area can evaluate your case, discuss whether it makes sense to file an appeal, make sure any settlement agreement is fair, and help you get all of the benefits you deserve. (Learn more about how a good workers’ comp lawyer can help.)