Workers' Compensation Disability Benefits and Your Heirs in Maryland

The purpose of workers' compensation is different from a lawsuit. The Maryland Workers' Compensation Act, unlike tort law, is not designed to make an injured worker whole, but rather to provide financial support following an injury.

Workers' Compensation functions more like an insurance policy, making payments to the injured employee, and in some cases, to his or her dependents after his or her death.

If you have been awarded a disability benefit and die before all of it has been paid, section 9-632 of the Maryland Labor and Employment Article determines if any of your heirs will receive the remaining benefit.

9-632(d) of the Labor and Employment Article

Section 9-632 lists the circumstances in which there is a survival of right to compensation for the worker's dependents.

If a worker dies before they have received all their benefits, the remaining benefits payable under the award are paid to the employee's surviving dependents or, if there are no such dependents, to other persons designated by the statute.

If on the date of death the claimant had a legal obligation to support a surviving spouse, then the spouse and the surviving minor children share the remaining benefit.

If there are no surviving dependents and no spouse with whom the deceased worker owed a legal support obligation, then only the minor children have a right to remaining benefit.

If there are no dependents, surviving spouse or minor children, then the award is terminated.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Holmes

In a recent case, the Maryland Court of Appeals had to interpret the statute section for the first time. Their summary of who would be covered stated:

In order for the survivor of a deceased, covered employee, to qualify for permanent partial or total benefits under § 9-632 of the Act, the claimant must be either: a dependent, as determined by the Commission; a minor child; or a surviving spouse to whom a legal obligation was owed by the covered employee at the time of the employee's death.

They had some difficulty with the phrase "a legal obligation to support," the statutory requirement for the spouse to receive the benefit. The court concludes that the only source of "a legal obligation of one spouse to another is a legally enforceable contract, decree or order from a court of competent jurisdiction."

This process is factually specific, meaning that if you believe you should receive this survival benefit, you should speak with an experienced workers' compensation attorney who can assist you with the claim process.