What does the word “compensation” mean in a Maryland workers compensation claim? That was the crux of the recently decided case Swedo v. WR Grace. The appeals court decided this one in favor of the injured worker, and I believe their decision is the only one that makes sense. Expect further appeals from the insurance defense attorneys! This one ain’t quite over yet.
Worker’s Compensation permanent partial disability benefits are paid weekly, not in a lump sum. At higher levels of disability, you get a higher amount each week. So what happens if you successfully get your rating increased, and should now be paid at an increased amount for each week? Does the insurer have to pay you a “catch up” check for the back money due? Or do they get a credit for the weeks they paid, and they just have to start paying you the higher amount for future payments only?
Swedo was injured in a work accident and received a certain sum of money from the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission. He appealed, and a Baltimore City jury awarded him a lot more compensation. At that higher level, he was to be paid a substantial increase in money for every week paid.
However, the insurer had already paid him under the existing order at a lower amount for each week. So the question was: should the insurance company get a credit for the weeks they paid already (which were paid at the lower rate), or should they only get credit for the actual dollar amount they paid, which would mean a big increase in benefits for Mr. Swedo?
The court held that “compensation” means money, not time. So the insurance company owed Swedo a big check. I agree with this decision wholeheartedly. To define the word compensation as “weeks” rather than money defies logic. It also gives the insurer an incentive to drag out a case as long as possible so they can keep paying at the lower rate. This hurts injured workers’ in Maryland.
I am glad the court saw these issues the way they did, and I hope that decision stands on further appeal.