Peter Saucier
Peter Saucier

Workers compensation falls on the debit side when an employer prepares a budget and plans staffing of the workforce.  With good cause, employers lament the costs of workers compensation insurance and the negative effect of having workers being paid for someone not working.  Still, there are some upsides for employers under the workers compensation scheme.  A good, recent example was detailed this past year by the Appellate Court of Maryland.  Ledford v. Jenway Contracting, Inc., Case 2022-1755.

John Leford died from a fall that took place on the job as he worked for Jenway Contracting. Maryland’s workers compensation law establishes a death benefit payable to the dependents in such circumstances.  Workers compensation insurance pays that award when it is due.  Importantly, that death benefit is the sole and exclusive benefit due from the employer on account of the death.  Only if the employer does not carry workers compensation insurance, or kills the employee on purpose, does the exclusivity principle not govern. [N.B. Keep your workers compensation insurance up-to-date]

 That exclusivity protection is critical.  Mary Ledford, the grown daughter of John who died in the workplace accident, was not a legal dependent of her late father.  Workers compensation insurance only pays dependents.  Therefore, she had no claim to death benefits under workers compensation law.  Mary reasoned that because she suffered mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, when John died, she was entitled to compensation. If workers compensation benefits were not available, then tort damages should be available for wrongful death.

Mary appealed dismissal of her lawsuit for wrongful death at the trial level.  The Appellate Court was sympathetic to Mary’s plight, but explained that the policy behind workers compensation reflected a legislative balancing decision.  On one hand, the dependents of a person who died while working would receive benefits without having to prove fault.  The other hand in the exchange was that the employer faced no additional liability.  The exclusivity of workers compensation death benefits for someone who dies in the “course of employment” precludes an action against the employer by anybody.

As one grouses about workers compensation insurance costs and effects it is wise to remember that there are advantages worth embracing.

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