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Workers' Compensation Blog

Maryland's Highest Court Delivers Victory for Fire Fighter's Widow

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

In a case of first impression, Ken Berman was successful in representing a widow of a fire fighter in a landmark decision before the Court of Appeals, the highest court in Maryland.

Two years before the fire fighter's untimely death due to work-related heart disease, he had settled his workers' compensation claims against his Employer. Notably, his widow was not involved in the fire fighter's settlement. After his passing, his widow rightfully filed a death benefits claim to receive the compensation afforded to dependents of covered employees under the Maryland Workers' Compensation Act. The Employer contested the claim on the grounds that the late fire fighter had not only settled his own claims but had also settled any potential for death benefits by the widow or any of his family. The Workers' Compensation Commission incorrectly ruled in favor of the Employer and denied the widow's death benefits claim.

Mr. Berman appealed the Commission's decision and argued that the fire fighter's right to compensation for his work-related occupational disease was separate and distinct from any right to benefits his widow or family had to compensation for his death caused by the occupational disease. In other words, the fire fighter's compensation benefits were in one "bucket", which belonged to him, but his widow and family's compensation benefits were in a totally separate “bucket" that belonged to them. Although the Circuit Court upheld the Commission's ruling, Mr. Berman took the matter up to the appellate courts. The Court of Appeals ultimately agreed with Mr. Berman, reversed the decision of the Commission and circuit court, and ruled that the widow was not bound by the terms of the fire fighter's earlier settlement with his Employer and that she and her family were independently entitled to receive death benefits as compensation for the death of her late husband as the result of heart disease.

This Court of Appeals' decision will have a tremendous benefit to injured workers and their families across Maryland as it confirms that the longstanding legal principle -- that a person who is not a party to a contract is not bound to its terms -- also applies to workers' compensation settlement contracts.

If you are a dependent of a loved one who recently died due to work related injuries, you may be entitled to compensation under the Workers' Compensation Act. Contact our team of attorneys who specialize in fighting for employees injured while on the job and protecting the rights of the employee and their families.

Facts About Injuries for Fire Fighters and First Responders

Friday, September 23, 2016

Fire fighters get injured at work more than the general population. If that seems logical to those who perform the job, now there are official numbers to back it up. In 2014 there were 63,350 fire fighter injuries which occurred in the line of duty, a decrease of 3.8% from 2013 when there were nearly 65,880 line of duty fire fighter injuries. While this number, thankfully, is the fewest since 1981, and 2013 represented a 5% drop from the number of injuries to fire fighters in 2012, it is still much higher, proportionately, than for any other occupation. This is especially worrisome when one considers that the number of fires has decreased by 57.1% since 1981.

1 Injury Occurs Every 8 Minutes

Thus, while the number of total injuries for fire fighters has gone down slightly over the last two decades, the number of fires since 1981 has decreased at a much greater rate. The number of injuries remain much higher for first responders than anyone else. It amounts to one fire fighter injury occurring every 8 minutes. In fact, according to the Harvard School of Medicine, putting out a fire has a 100 times higher risk of death than working in a non-emergency situation. Although many people assume that burns and smoke inhalation are the cause of most fire fighter fatalities; heart disease (coronary artery disease) is actually the single most frequent cause of duty-related deaths.

WHERE the Injuries Occur

A look behind the numbers nationwide in 2014 show that forty three percent (43%) of fire fighter injuries occur at or on the fire grounds, while seventeen percent (17%) occur during other on-duty activities. Six percent (6%) arise from responding to or returning from an incident, while eleven percent (11%) happened during training activities. Finally, twenty three percent (23%) occurred at non-fire emergency incidents. The highest rate of injuries (per 100 fire fighters) were, perhaps not surprisingly, among departments that protected populations of one million citizens or more and the fewest were to fire fighters that protected populations of fewer than 25,000.

Exposure To More Than Burns and Scars

In addition to injuries, NFPA estimates that in 2013 (the last calendar year for which reportable numbers exist) there were 7,100 exposures nationwide to infectious disease (such as hepatitis, meningitis, HIV) and 17,400 exposures to hazardous conditions (asbestos, radioactive materials, chemicals, etc.)

Public Safety Workers’ Compensation Claim Rates

The national numbers are mirrored in the State of Maryland. Out of all the workers’ compensation claims filed in the State of Maryland, a disproportionate number have been for public safety employees.

2015 2014 2013
# of Claims 23,711 24,211 23,241
# FF Claims 754 (3.2%) 799 (3.3%) 769 (3.3%)

If you know of fire fighter, first responder, or EMS worker who has been injured on the job have them call me for a confidential consultation.

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