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State employees: Workers' Comp offset against similar benefits

At Cohen, Snyder, Eisenberg & Katzenberg, P.A., we represent employees in Workers' Compensation claims when they are injured or become ill in the course of employment. We advocate for both private employees and public employees, like those who work in law enforcement, for government agencies and departments, as firefighters and others.

The offset issue

Maryland state, County and Municipal employees face a complex legal issue when they are awarded Workers' Compensation like permanent partial disability benefits or permanent total disability benefits and simultaneously a second kind of benefit payment related to their government jobs. For example, an employee could get Workers' Compensation benefits and also public pension or disability benefits based on his or her state employment status.

If the two kinds of benefits are "similar," the employee cannot collect the full amount of both. Rather, the non-Workers' Compensation benefit is paid first, setting off (eliminating) that part of the Workers' Compensation payment up to the amount of the other benefit amount. If the Workers' Compensation payment is higher than the other payment, the employee is still entitled to that part of the Workers' Comp payment that is in excess of the other payment.

The setoff issue is complicated - there are certain exceptions and application of the law in individual situations can be difficult. For this reason, it is smart to consult an attorney about whether the offset is being appropriately applied.

The offset provision was passed because the legislature did not want state employees to be compensated twice by public funds for the same injury. A February 2017 case shows that this has been broadly interpreted by Maryland courts.

A recent example

In Zakwieia v. Baltimore County, Board of Education, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland said that for purposes of the setoff provision, the ordinary disability retirement benefits awarded to a Board of Ed. employee by the State Retirement Agency were "similar benefits" to the permanent partial disability Workers' Compensation benefits she received.

The claimant was awarded Workers' Compensation for a work-related back injury. She was also approved to receive ordinary disability retirement benefits related in part to a pre-existing back problem. The court found that whether the benefits are "similar" is based on the "nature of the benefit" not the "nature of the underlying injury" or particular "medical condition."

Both benefits were for "physical incapacity" broadly - her "inability to work caused by her disability," so the setoff applied.

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