ELECTRICAL GENERAL CORP., ET AL.
MICHAEL L. LABONTE
Berger, Wright, Reed, JJ.
appeal stems from a jury verdict in the Circuit Court for
Anne Arundel County that reversed the finding of the Maryland
Workers' Compensation Commission ("Commission")
that Michael Labonte's current back condition is not
causally related to the accidental work injury he suffered on
September 2, 2004, but rather entirely to a subsequent
intervening accident he suffered on December 31, 2006. In so
reversing the Commission, the jury authorized Mr.
Labonte's requests for medical treatment and payment of
his medical bill dated February 2, 2012. Mr. Labonte's
employer, Electrical General Corporation, and insurer,
Selective Insurance Company of America, (together
"appellants") present four questions for our
review, which, for clarity, we have rephrased as
1. Did the Workers' Compensation Commission's
previous finding that Mr. Labonte had sustained a subsequent
intervening accident bar him from receiving the additional
benefits awarded to him by the jury?
2. Should the doctrine of collateral estoppel have barred the
jury from considering whether Mr. Labonte's current back
condition was caused by a subsequent intervening accident?
3. Did the circuit court err in submitting to the jury the
question of whether Mr. Labonte's back condition was
causally related to the work injury?
4. Did the circuit court err by allowing the jury to decide
issues relating to both apportionment and the reasonableness
and necessity of Mr. Labonte's requests for medical
treatment and payment of medical expenses?
no error, we affirm.
And Procedural Background
September 2, 2004, Michael Labonte ("appellee"), an
electrician, sustained an accidental work injury to his back
while attempting to steady a falling forty-foot ladder. He
subsequently filed a claim with the Workers' Compensation
Commission on September 27, 2004. The Commission conducted a
hearing on June 15, 2005, and, by Order dated June 22, 2005,
found that the appellee's persisting back condition was
the result of the aforementioned accidental work injury.
Following that Order, the appellants began paying for the
appellee's medical treatment and providing him with
out-of-work benefits. The Commission conducted three more
hearings throughout the next year and a half, each resulting
in the authorization of the appellee's requests for
additional medical treatment and/or out-of-work benefits.
December 31, 2006, while operating his vehicle on the
roadway, the appellee was pulled over by a police officer. An
altercation ensued, during which time the appellee was
slammed against the hood of the police car by an officer.
This altercation caused the appellee to experience increased
pain in his back. Therefore, the appellee's treating
physician, Dr. Najmaldin O. Karim, placed him out of work for
approximately one month. Dr. Karim indicated that the
altercation with the police officer aggravated the
appellee's pre-existing herniated disc but did not create
a new or separate injury.
early 2007, the appellee filed Issues with the Commission
requesting additional temporary total disability from January
4, 2007, to March 9, 2007. The Commission conducted a hearing
on this request on March 9, 2007. Thereafter, by Order dated
March 30, 2007, the Commission found that "the
[appellee]'s need for lumbar epidural injections is not
causally related to [his work-related] accident" in
2004. Furthermore, the Commission found that the
appellee's disability between January 4, 2007, and March
9, 2007, was caused by "a subsequent event on December
31, 2006" (i.e., the altercation with the
police officer). Accordingly, the Commission denied
appellee's early 2007 request for treatment.
in 2007, the appellee filed another set of Issues with the
Commission. This time, in addition to the payment of medical
expenses, he requested compensation for permanent partial
rather than temporary total disability. The Commission
conducted a hearing on October 4, 2007. On October 15, 2007,
the Commission issued an Order in which it found, with regard
to the appellee's claim for permanent partial disability,
that he "[h]as overall 30% industrial disability to the
body due to an injury to the back; 20% is due to this
accidental injury, and 10% is causally connected to
pre-existing and subsequent condition[.]" As such, the
Commission ordered that the appellee be paid "at the
rate of $247.00, payable weekly, beginning December 20, 2006,
for a period of 100 weeks." However, the Commission
again denied, on the basis of a subsequent intervening
injury, the appellee's request for payment of the medical
bills he incurred between January 15, 2007, and March 5,
October 10, 2012, the appellee filed a petition to reopen his
workers' compensation claim for worsening of his
permanent partial disability. He again requested
authorization of medical treatment and payment of medical
expenses. However, this time his request for payment of
medical expenses was in relation to those he incurred on
February 16, 2012, rather than in early 2007. A hearing took
place before the Commission on January 16, 2013, which was
followed up by an Order dated January 24, 2013. In this
latest Order, the Commission found that the "Orders
dated [March 30, 2007, ] and [October 15, 2007, ] establish a
subsequent intervening event which breaks the causal nexus
between the accidental injury and the current
condition." The Commission further found that
"there is no worsening of [the appellee's
permanent partial disability] which is causally related to
the accidental injury of [September 2, 2004]."
Accordingly, the Commission denied the appellee's
requests for medical treatment and payment of medical
February 4, 2013, the appellee filed a Petition for Judicial
Review of the Commission's January 24, 2013, Order. In
response, on November 13, 2013, the appellants filed a Motion
for Summary Judgment. A hearing was held on the
appellants' Motion for Summary Judgment in the Circuit
Court for Anne Arundel County on March 10, 2014. By Order
dated March 13, 2014, the Motion for Summary Judgment was
case proceeded to jury trial on February 12, 2015.
Conflicting expert testimony was presented during the trial,
which lasted two days. Dr. Michael Franchetti testified on
behalf of the appellee that the appellee suffered from an
overall impairment level of fifty-three (53) percent. Dr.
Franchetti further testified that the entirety of the
appellee's impairment level was caused by the accidental
work injury he sustained on September 2, 2004. The
appellants' expert, Dr. Edward Cohen, disagreed. Dr.
Cohen testified that the appellee's back condition had
not worsened since 2007 as a result of the original work
injury in 2004.
February 13, 2015, the jury returned its verdict that: 1) the
appellee's current back condition is causally related to
the September 2, 2004 work injury; 2) the appellee's back
condition has worsened one hundred (100) percent as a result
of the accidental work injury since the Commission's
October 15, 2007, Order; 3) the appellee's request for
medical treatment was reasonable, necessary, and causally
related to his work injury; and 4) the appellee's request
for payment of medical expenses incurred on February 16,
2012, was also reasonable, necessary, and causally related to
the work injury. The jury's verdict was entered on March
4, 2015. On March 6, 2015, the appellants filed a Motion for
Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict, which was ultimately
denied. Therefore, on June 15, 2015, the appellants noted
this timely appeal.
Legal Effect of the Subsequent Intervening Accident
The Contentions of the Parties
appellants argue that "[w]here a workers'
compensation Claimant's disability is due in part to [a
subsequent intervening] injur[y], . . . the Employer is not
responsible for ongoing benefits or treatment." The
appellants rely primarily on two cases in support of this
proposition: Martin v. Allegany Cnty. Bd. of Cnty.
Comm'rs, 73 Md.App. 695 (1988), and Reeves Motor
Co. v. Reeves, 204 Md. 576 (1954). The appellants assert
that the appellee's altercation with the police officer
on December 31, 2006, broke the causal connection between the
appellee's current back condition and the accidental work
injury he sustained on September 2, 2004. The appellants also
point to the Commission's March 30, 2007, and October 4,
2007, Orders in which the Commission specifically denied the
appellee's requests on the grounds that he had sustained
a subsequent intervening injury. Therefore, the appellants
contend that "the Circuit Court erred in denying both
the Employer and Insurer's Motion for Summary Judgment
and . . . Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict or
appellee, on the other hand, argues that "[i]t is well
settled in Maryland that a preexisting medical condition may
deteriorate independent of and despite the existence
of a subsequent injury." (citing Subsequent Injury
Fund v. Thomas, 275 Md. 628 (1975)) (emphasis added).
The appellee asserts that Martin can be
distinguished from the present case because the former only
"discussed subsequent events in the context of temporary
disability, " whereas the latter involves permanent
disability. The appellee contends that Reeves is
likewise distinguishable because in that case the
workers' compensation claimant did not present any
evidence that his surgery was caused, even in part, by the
work injury. The appellee argues that in the case sub
judice, unlike Reeves, there is plenty of
evidence linking his claim to his accidental work injury,
including the testimony of Dr. Franchetti. Lastly, the
appellee asserts that a subsequent injury does not
necessarily preclude an employer from further liability, as
evidenced by the fact that permanent partial disability,
unlike temporary disability, can be apportioned to different
causes. See Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §
9-656; Martin, 73 Md.App. at 699-700; and Maryland
Civil Pattern Jury Instruction ("MCPJI") 30:30.
Standard of Review
appellants are essentially arguing that under Maryland case
law, a subsequent intervening accident such as the one the
appellee suffered when he was slammed against the hood of the
police car serves to bar the employer from further liability
on a previously-sustained work accident. As the Court of
Appeals has explained, "where an order involves an
interpretation and application of Maryland constitutional,
statutory or case law, our Court must determine whether the
trial court's conclusions are 'legally correct'
under a de novo standard of review."
Schisler v. State, 394 Md. 519, 535 (2006) (citing
Garfink v. Cloisters at Charles, Inc., 392 Md. 374,
383 (2006); Gray v. State, 388 Md. 366, 374-75
(2005); Nesbit v. GEICO, 382 Md. 65, 72 (2004); and
Walter v. Gunter, 367 Md. 386, 392 (2002)). Thus, we
shall review this issue de novo.
agree with the appellee that his subsequent intervening
accident did not, per se, preclude further liability
on the part of his employer for the permanent partial injury
he sustained on the job. We explain.
appellants and appellee agree that the jury was properly
instructed with MCPJI 30:12, which provides:
Worker's Compensation-Causal Relationship. In order to be
compensable there must be proof that the injury could have
been caused by the accident and nothing else after ...