On August 30, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland handed down an opinion in favor of a firefighter who claimed that degenerative knee tearing in his right knee arose out of and in the course of his employment. The court explains in detail what the standards are in Maryland Workers’ Compensation law for establishing an occupational disease that makes the worker eligible for benefits.
In Baltimore County v. Quinlan, the court on appeal agreed with the jury in the court below that sufficient evidence showed that the firefighter claimant had sustained an occupational disease of degenerative menisci tears in his right knee making him eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits under state law.
What is an occupational disease under the Act?
The law says that a worker is eligible for benefits if he or she gets an occupational disease that is “due to the nature of an employment in which hazards of the occupational disease exist.” The court said that the testimony at trial constituted sufficient evidence tying the claimant’s knee tears to an occupationally related disease. Specifically, testimony established that “repetitive kneeling and squatting” is a “regular part of a paramedic’s job and … a risk factor for developing menisci tears and, in turn, osteoarthritis in the knees.”
The employer tried to argue that osteoarthritis and degenerative knee tearing are “a disease of life” common to the population as a whole and not inherent in the claimant’s work as a firefighter and paramedic.
The court, however, quoted the Court of Appeals about occupational diseases, defined as “some ailment, disorder, or illness which is the expectable result of working under conditions naturally inherent in the employment and inseparable therefrom, and is ordinarily slow and insidious in its approach.”
It went on to say that even the employer’s expert at trial said that EMTs and firefighters are at higher risk for “osteoarthritis and knee problems” because they are among jobs that “require more squatting and kneeling.” In addition, the claimant’s own expert testified that firefighters have these knee tears and arthritis at higher rates than other people.
The court concluded that even if claimant’s age and weight contributed, if the condition was due in part to the nature of the job, the jury could conclude that he had an occupational disease under the Act.
Anyone who believes that his or her own illness is work related should speak to an attorney about establishing an occupational disease that creates eligibility for Workers’ Compensation.