New Maryland Workers’ Compensation Opinion

The Maryland Court of Appeals issued a 5-2 decision this morning in a workers’ compensation case, WalMart v. Holmes.

The Plaintiff in this case sought to collect permanent partial disability benefits under the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act on behalf of his wife, who died of causes unrelated to her work injury. Plaintiff testified he needed their combined income with his wife’s disability benefits in order to meet their living expenses. The Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission found that Mr. Holmes did not present evidence to show that his decedent wife had “a legal obligation to support” him at the time of her death and, accordingly, her claim for permanent partial benefits did not transfer to him.

The issue in this case involved claims where the surviving spouse seeks permanent disability benefits according to the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act. The court, in an opinion by Judge Greene, found that the surviving spouse must either show dependency or evidence of a legal obligation of support that was owed to the surviving spouse by the decedent.

Judge Adkins and Chief Judge Bell disagree, arguing that the court is looking through the wrong analytical looking glass. Instead of focusing on a spouse’s duty to provide support, the majority hones in on the surviving spouse’s right to receive support. Accordingly, the majority ignores Maryland law’s authority to enforce spousal support by criminalizing the willful failure to provide support. Under the dissent’s view, the claim should go to the trier of fact and that, if uncontroverted, Plaintiff’s testimony that he needed the disability payments should be enough.

You can read the full opinion here.