Here at Cohen, Snyder, Eisenberg & Katzenberg, P.A., we fight for the workers’ compensation rights of injured workers. As we say on our website, while you do not need to hire a lawyer to pursue your workers’ compensation claim, it can be of great benefit. Maryland workers’ compensation law is complicated and an injured or sick employee may not understand that a denial of benefits may be wrong or that a complex legal issue may be involved.
Willful misconduct and physical altercations
Business Insurance recently published an article about workers’ compensation claims involving injuries from physical fights in the workplace. Maryland is one of the states discussed. The author cites a Maryland case involving a school bus driver injured by a physical attack by another employee that occurred after an earlier verbal disagreement in the break room, the details of which were disputed.
In the 2005 Court of Special Appeals of Maryland case of Board of Education of Montgomery County v. Spradlin, the court looked at (in addition to several confusing procedural issues) relevant provisions of Maryland law that can apply when a claimant is injured in an altercation with a co-employee:
- Maryland law provides that a covered accidental personal injury includes an injury “caused by a willful or negligent act of a third person directed against a covered employee in the course of the employment.” The court said that a coworker could be such a third person, potentially in the context of a physical altercation.
- An issue can arise as to whether an assault or fight occurred “in the course of the employment.” In Spradlin, the court agreed that the claimant was in the course of employment when she was assaulted while boarding the school bus she was going to drive to pick up children.
- Maryland statute also provides a defense to an employer when an injury was the result of the claimant’s “willful misconduct,” which disallows benefits. The employer normally has the burden to prove this defense. The court agreed with an earlier finding that the employer did not establish that any willful misconduct of the claimant caused the fight that caused the injury, where the details of the earlier verbal exchange were in dispute.
Anyone with an injury from a work-related assault should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible. The legal and factual issues are likely to be complex and disputed.