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Gales v. Sunoco, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Maryland

October 23, 2014

LUTHER GALES, III
v.
SUNOCO, INC. and AMERICAN ZURICH INSURANCE

Argued September 4, 2014.

Page 372

Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Case No.: 24-C-11-003170. Certiorari to the Court of Special Appeals (Circuit Court for Baltimore City). Edward R.K. Hargadon JUDGE.

ARGUED BY Robert J, Zarbin (Zarbin Law Firm, LLC of Upper Marlboro. MD)on brief FOR PETITIONER

ARGUED BY Shiva Trigg (Joseph C. Tarpine and Lindsey M. Cook, Semmes, Bowen & Semmes of Baltimore. MD) on brief FOR RESPONDENTS

ARGUED BEFORE Barbera, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, JJ. Opinion by Adkins, J.

OPINION

Page 373

[440 Md. 360] Adkins, J.

In Maryland, a party aggrieved by a decision of the Workers' Compensation Commission (" Commission" )[1] may appeal [440 Md. 361] to the circuit court and request a jury trial. Md. Code (1991, 2008 Repl. Vol.), § 9-737 of the Labor and Employment Article; § 9-745(d) of the Labor and Employment Article. The scope of this jury trial, which is essentially de novo, encompasses " any question of fact involved in the case." § 9-745(d) of the Labor and Employment Article. In this case, we consider whether the appellant in a de novo workers' compensation jury trial must move the Commission decision into evidence.

FACTS AND LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

On February 20, 2010, Petitioner, Luther Gales, III, sustained an accidental injury while delivering gasoline for Respondent, Sunoco, Inc. As a result of the accident, Sunoco's workers' compensation insurer, Respondent, American Zurich Insurance, compensated Gales for temporary total disability[2] from February 21, 2010 to December 28, 2010. After this initial period, Gales requested that Sunoco, Inc. and American Zurich Insurance (collectively " Employer" ) pay for additional temporary total disability benefits to begin on December 29, 2010, as well as an evaluation by a pain management specialist. After Employer refused, Gales filed a claim with the Commission. Following a hearing, the Commission entered an Award of Compensation (" Award" ), ordering Employer to pay for the additional benefits and evaluation. Employer appealed to the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County and requested a jury trial.[3]

At the beginning of voir dire , the trial judge instructed the venire that Gales prevailed before the Commission and that Employer was appealing that decision. In their opening [440 Md. 362] statements, all parties advised the jury that the Commission entered an Award in Gales's favor, and Gales also informed the jury that the Award is presumed prima facie correct.

During its case-in-chief, Employer presented the video deposition of Dr. Robert Riederman, an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Riederman testified that no further medical treatment was necessary and Gales could return to work without restrictions. After playing the video deposition, Employer rested its case. Gales then moved for judgment, arguing that because Employer failed to move the Award into evidence, it had failed to meet its burden to invoke the jurisdiction of the circuit court.[4]

Page 374

Although Employer maintained it was not obligated to offer the Award into evidence, it nevertheless moved to reopen evidence so it could do so. The trial court, however, denied the Motion to Reopen and granted Gales's Motion for Judgment.

In its March 2, 2012 Order granting the Motion for Judgment and affirming the Award, the trial court explained that § 9-745 of the Labor and Employment Article (" LE § 9-745" ) " makes the [Commission] decision, or a version of the decision, a piece of evidence that would need to be considered by the jury." The trial court then added the following:

As the Court of Appeals stated in Holman v. Kelly Catering, " In order to effectuate the legislature's mandate that the Commission's 'decision . . . is presumed to be prima facie correct,' the jury should know what decision is presumed correct and who made that decision." 334 Md. 480, 487[, 639 A.2d 701, 704] (1994). And it is the Appellant who has the burden to show that, based on the evidence it presented in the case in chief, the decision of the [Commission] is incorrect. To not require the Appellant to introduce [440 Md. 363] ...

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