“Accidental Injury” After Harris

August, 2006

The decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals in Harris v. Board of Education, issued by the Court on June 6, 2003, expanded the definition of “accidental injury” under Maryland law and eliminated the requirement that the injury must result from some “unusual activity” in order to be compensable. Almost three years later, the Maryland workers’ compensation community is still sorting out exactly what is covered, and what is not, after Harris. Attempts to have the Maryland Legislature amend the statute to redefine “accidental injury” after the Harris case have, to date, not been successful.

While there have been no additional appellate court cases defining an “accidental injury,” numerous claims can be contested and won at the Commission based on an “accidental injury” defense. From our experience, the Maryland Commission generally requires that there be a specific incident that causes the onset of pain, rather than simply a gradual onset of pain over the course of several hours during the work day, or over several days. This is especially true in cases where the claimant had prior medical problems with the area of the body involved in the claim. In addition, in most claims, the Commission seems to be requiring that there be some added risk of the employment in causing an injury to occur before it will be compensable. In essence, this is an “idiopathic injury” defense. Simply walking along and feeling a pain, or bending over and feeling a pain, without carrying any item of significant weight as a result of the employment, is often found not to be compensable.

Semmes’ attorneys are always available to discuss whether a specific factual scenario would constitute a compensable “accidental injury” under current Maryland Law.