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Hollingsworth v. Severstal Sparrows Point, LLC

Court of Appeals of Maryland

July 11, 2016

CARVILLE A. HOLLINGSWORTH, et al.
v.
SEVERSTAL SPARROWS POINT, LLC, et al.

          Argued: June 2, 2016

         Circuit Court for Baltimore County Case No.: 03-C-14-012368

          Barbera, C.J. Greene Adkins McDonald Watts Hotten Battaglia, Lynne A. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          ADKINS, J.

         This workers' compensation case between an injured worker's daughter, Heather Hollingsworth ("Appellant"), and the worker's former employer, Severstal Sparrows Point, LLC, and employer's insurer, Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania ("Appellees"), involves a dispute over survival of benefits in which we must decide which of two provisions-§ 9-632 or § 9-640-in the Labor and Employment Article applies. The Appellant seeks to collect benefits under the Maryland Workers' Compensation Act, Md. Code (1991, 2008 Repl. Vol.), §§ 9-101–9-1201 of the Labor and Employment Article ("LE") that would have been due to her father, Carville Hollingsworth ("Hollingsworth"), had he not died of causes unrelated to the accidental injury he sustained in the course of his employment. Under LE § 9-632, an award of benefits by the Workers' Compensation Commission survives upon the death of an injured employee. On the other hand, under LE § 9-640, an award of benefits survives upon the death of an injured employee only up to $45, 000.00. Appellant argues that LE § 9-632 applies and Appellees contend that LE § 9-640 governs. For the reasons set forth below, we agree with Appellees that LE § 9-640 controls.

         FACTS AND LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

         The facts of this case are undisputed. In 2010, Hollingsworth sustained an accidental injury in the course of his employment with Appellee. The body parts involved in the 2010 injury included Hollingsworth's neck, right shoulder, back, and right hand. In November 2013, the Commission issued an award of compensation after determining that, as the result of the combined effects of the accidental injury and his preexisting conditions, Hollingsworth was permanently totally disabled. The Commission found that Hollingsworth had a 65% permanent disability due to the 2010 accidental injury. The Commission then found that the balance of his permanent disability, 35%, was due to his preexisting conditions, for which the Subsequent Injury Fund was responsible for paying compensation.

         In accordance with these findings, the Commission directed the Appellees to pay Hollingsworth compensation at the rate of $798.00 weekly beginning February 7, 2013, not to exceed the sum of $345, 534.00 allowable under the "Other cases" provision of the Maryland Workers' Compensation Act, LE § 9-627(k). The Commission also ordered the Subsequent Injury Fund to begin making payments to Hollingsworth at the end of the compensation to be paid by Appellees. The Commission ruled that these payments by the Fund would be made for as long as Hollingsworth continued to be permanently totally disabled.

         Hollingsworth died in July 2014 from causes unrelated to the accidental injury. Up to the time of his death, Appellees made compensation payments pursuant to the Commission's award amounting to $52, 166.54. Subsequently, the Appellant filed issues with the Commission seeking continued payment of the benefits provided in the November 2013 award.

         Following an October 2014 hearing, the Commission issued an order in which it determined that Appellees were not obligated to make further payments under the award of compensation to Appellant because LE § 9-640 caps the survival of benefits at $45, 000.00 and Appellees had already paid more than this amount to Hollingsworth at the time of his death.

         Appellant petitioned for judicial review of the Commission's order to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County and both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The Circuit Court denied Appellant's motion and granted Appellees' motion, thereby affirming the Commission's ruling. Appellant then appealed the Circuit Court's decision to the Court of Special Appeals and filed a petition for writ of certiorari with this Court. Before the intermediate appellate court's consideration of this case, we exercised our bypass jurisdiction and granted certiorari under Maryland Code (1973, 2013 Repl. Vol.), § 12-203 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article to consider the following question:

Does a workers' compensation award payable by an employer and insurer for the degree of permanent disability which resulted from an accidental injury survive the death of the injured worker under § 9-632 of the Labor and Employment Article, so that it is payable to his dependents, in a case where he was found to have additional disability due to preexisting conditions which caused him to be permanently totally disabled?

         We hold that LE § 9-640 governs survival of benefits where a claimant is found to be permanently totally disabled irrespective of whether the claimant's permanent total disability is due solely to accidental injury or a combination of accidental injury and preexisting conditions. Because LE § 9-632 does not apply, we answer no to the question presented and affirm the judgment of the Circuit Court.

         STANDARD ...


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