Law Updates

Court of Special Appeals Holds that Withdrawal of Request for Continuing Medical Treatment Constitutes Withdrawal of Petition to Re-open under Maryland Code § 9-736

Michael McLaughlin v. Gill Simpson Electric, et al., Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, No. 376 (Jun. 29, 2012) | View pdf

(June 10, 2012) Jhanelle A. Graham, Summer Associate.

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In Michael McLaughlin v. Gill Simpson Electric, et al., a Maryland workers’ compensation case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland held that the withdrawal of an Issue Sheet requesting Authorization for Medical Treatment, filed in conjunction with a Petition to Reopen, constituted a withdrawal of the petition. Writing for the Court, Judge Watts affirmed the Order of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, which upheld a decision by the Workers’ Compensation Commission (the “Commission”) to deny a Petition to Reopen Martin McLaughlin’s workers’ compensation claim. Consequently, McLaughlin’s filing was barred by the statute of limitations under the Labor and Employment Article, Section 9–736 of the Maryland Code (“LE § 9–736”).

On November 9, 2002, Martin McLaughlin, an employee of Gill Simpson Electric, sustained a compensable work-related injury to his back. Following a course of treatment, a hearing was held on the nature and extent of any permanent disability that McLaughlin sustained as a result of the injury. On February 26, 2004, the Commission found that McLaughlin sustained a twenty-five percent (25%) disability under “other causes” for injuries related to his back, with twenty percent (20%) related to the accident and five percent (5%) related to pre-existing conditions. The award entitled McLaughlin to one-hundred (100) weeks of payments (less attorney’s fees and expenses), which was properly paid by Gill Simpson Electric and Zurich American Insurance Company. All parties agreed that the last payment of compensation to McLaughlin was July 27, 2004.

On February 15, 2005, McLaughlin filed a Petition to Reopen under LE § 9–736 and an Issue Sheet asking for Authorization for Medical Treatment. At that time, Gill Simpson Electric and Zurich American Insurance Company agreed that the medical treatment was causally related to his injury, reasonable and necessary. Due to the agreement of the parties, McLaughlin withdrew the Issues at the Commission and no hearing was held. During the next few years, various Issues arose between the parties regarding the payment and provision of medical treatment, which they resolved themselves. No hearing was necessary after each withdrawal.

On September 22, 2009, McLaughlin obtained a permanency evaluation from the same physician who rated him for the prior permanency hearing in 2004. On October 22, 2009, McLaughlin filed Issues with the Commission requesting a hearing on the “Worsening – Back” condition. Gill Simpson Electric and Zurich American Insurance Company then filed an Issue with the Commission to determine whether the claim was barred by LE § 9–736, since the last agreed-upon payment of compensation took place in July of 2004. The Commission found that the Petition to Reopen for Worsening of Condition was indeed barred by the statute of limitations under LE § 9–736, because that Issue had been withdrawn in 2005 and no new Issues for Worsening of Condition were filed until more than five (5) years after the last indemnity payment.

On February 4, 2010, McLaughlin filed a Petition for Judicial Review in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, and all parties filed dueling Motions for Summary Judgment. On February 8, 2011, the circuit court held a hearing on the motions and, on April 25, 2011, issued an Opinion and Ruling, granting Gill Simpson Electric’s and Zurich American Insurance Company’s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and affirming the Commission’s Order. The circuit court found that McLaughlin’s withdrawal of the Issues constituted a withdrawal of the Petition to Reopen. McLaughlin appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, presenting one question: Whether the Workers’ Compensation Commission erred in ruling that withdrawal of the Issues filed in conjunction with the Petition to Reopen constituted a withdrawal of the petition. The Court of Special Appeals responded in the negative.

The modification of a disability award by the Commission is governed by LE § 9–736, which provides, in pertinent part, that “the Commission may not modify an award unless the modification is applied for within five (5) years after the latter of: (i) the date of the accident; (ii) the date of disablement; or (iii) the last compensation payment.” LE § 9-736. Additionally, COMAR instructs that: “A claimant alleging permanent disability shall file with the Commission an issue expressly claiming permanent disability.” The Court reasoned that because the plain language of COMAR requires that Issues be filed with a request for an increase of an award by the Commission, the Commission did not err in ruling that the withdrawal of the Issues in this case was tantamount to withdrawal of the petition.

Citing to Buskirk v. C.J. Langenfelder & Sons, Inc., 136 Md. App. 261 (2001), the Court acknowledged that the “[r]eopening of disability is not tied to the unlimited obligation for medical benefits[.]” Id. at 271. Moreover, a request for continuing medical benefits does not put the Commission, an employer, or an insurer on notice of an increase in disability. For this reason, the Court determined that the Issues that McLaughlin filed in February 2005, alleging the need for continuing medical treatment, failed to “expressly [claim] permanent disability” as required by COMAR, and were insufficient to support a Petition to Reopen based on increased disability. By failing to file an Issue Sheet that requested an increase in disability under LE § 9-736, McLaughlin did not place Gill Simpson Electric and Zurich American Insurance Company on notice as to his claim for a change in disability. For these reasons, the Court of Special Appeals upheld the Commission’s decision that McLaughlin’s October 22, 2009, filing was barred by the statute of limitations under LE § 9–736.