The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland released an unpublished opinion illustrating “estoppel” in the context of a late workers’ compensation claim. Estoppel provides relief when someone is legally harmed by reasonably relying on another person’s behavior or statements.
Maryland law provides relief by estoppel for certain late-filed Workers’ Compensation claims.
For an accidental work injury, the employee must file with the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission within 60 days of the injury a claim form and a doctor’s report, if applicable.
If the employee misses the 60-day deadline, the employee can still file the claim within two years after the injury if the Commission finds no prejudice to the employer or Workers’ Compensation insurer or “another sufficient reason.” If the two-year deadline, called a statute of limitations, is missed, the claim is “completely barred.”
However, if the employee missed the deadline because of estoppel or fraud, the employee has a year to file from the day the “facts and circumstances that amount to estoppel ceased to operate” or the day the fraud was discovered. (The law has a separate provision for radiation injury.)
In Prince George’s County Board of Education v. Anthony Butler, Butler was a truck driver and warehouseman for the school district. In 2011, he fell and hit his head on cement during a delivery. Another employee helped him complete a public-school Workers’ Compensation injury report form. She said that “everything was taken care of” and that his supervisor would “send it to the workman’s comp office.” Butler said no one told him he needed to fill out anything else.
On Butler’s return to work, his supervisor said “everything was taken care of.” Butler said that he relied on these statements. He subsequently had head surgery to repair a broken shunt from the fall. When the bills were not paid, his employer again reassured him that it would be “taken care of.”
He eventually sought legal advice when the bills continued unpaid. His lawyer helped him file the claim with the Commission in September 2014, well past the two-year deadline. He asserted the defense of estoppel for filing late based on his reliance on his employer’s statements that everything would be taken care of.
The Commission denied the late claim, but on appeal the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County reversed the Commission based on estoppel. In the employer’s appeal, the Court of Special Appeals agreed with the Circuit Court that estoppel should allow Butler’s claim, despite the late filing.
The court explained that for estoppel to apply, the claimant must have reasonably relied on the statements of someone who could reasonably be thought to have the authority to speak for the employer. Estoppel prevents the employer from opposing the claim when the worker relied on the conduct in “good faith” and “thereby … change[d] his position for the worse.”
This case illustrates the concept of estoppel, but also shows how complicated Workers’ Compensation law can be. Consult an attorney as early as possible for assistance with your claim, but even if you think it might be too late or that you have missed a deadline, a lawyer can evaluate the situation to see if the law provides relief and provide direction.