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Maryland Workers’ Compensation: New case on average weekly wage

When a Maryland employee gets a work-related injury or disease, he or she is eligible for Workers’ Compensation. When the worker is found to be temporarily totally disabled, he or she receives wage replacement benefits equal to two-thirds of average weekly wage

(The statute caps the weekly benefit at the statewide average weekly wage and applies a different formula for average weekly wages under $50.00.)

At our law firm, we advocate for correct and fair calculation of this figure for our Workers’ Compensation clients. 

Important Maryland case 

On March 1, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland issued an opinion about calculating average weekly wage. Richard Beavers Construction, Inc. v. Wagstaff concerns a construction worker who was severely injured when he fell through a roof at the worksite after six weeks on the job. He had been hired for full-time work as a lift operator, but had not worked full time in his first six weeks because of bad weather. The employer had instructed him not to work in rain or snow. 

The issue became whether his average weekly wage should be based on the first six weeks of work, all of which were less than full time, or whether it should instead be calculated based on what a full-time wage would have been without missing work. These figures were $317.38 and $758.00, respectively. 

Reasonable interpretation 

The court said that when it interprets a Workers’ Compensation statute or regulation, it looks at its plain or ordinary meaning. However, if the words are not “sufficiently clear,” it should be interpreted to “carry out [the law’s] general purpose.” The Workers’ Compensation Act is “remedial” and uncertainty in meaning should be resolved in favor of the worker. 

The court found that average weekly wage also includes a “projection of what an employee would have gone on to earn” but for the injury — that it looks at “loss of earning capacity.” 

The court ultimately found that the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission’s decision, after a hearing, that granted benefits based on a full-time average weekly wage of $758.00, was “a reasonable approximation of what he would normally earn in his position.” (A lower court had also affirmed that decision.) 

When the issue of average weekly wage is before the Commission at a hearing, it is free to determine the appropriate time period on which to base the calculation, the court said, and the Commission had made no legal error.

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