Circuit Court for Calvert County Case No. C-O4-CV-17-000175
Arthur, Shaw Geter, Eyler, Deborah S. (Senior Judge,
Specially Assigned), JJ.
Deborah S., J.
8, 2017, Bernard Collins, age 72, died of a heart attack
brought on by heart disease and hypertension. He had worked
for many years for the Huntingtown Volunteer Fire Department
("Huntingtown"), an appellee, as a volunteer
firefighter. He had filed a claim with the Workers'
Compensation Commission ("the Commission") against
Huntingtown and two of its insurers, Chesapeake Employers
Insurance Company ("Chesapeake") and Selective
Insurance Company of America ("Selective"), also
appellees, on the ground that his heart disease and
hypertension were an occupational disease. That claim was
appellant in this case is Peggy Collins, Mr. Collins's
widow. After her husband's death, she filed a claim in
the Commission against the appellees for death benefits,
alleging that his death resulted from his occupational
disease. The Commission ruled that Mrs. Collins's claim
was barred by the release of claims Mr. Collins had given in
settling his own claim. In the Circuit Court for Calvert
County, Mrs. Collins petitioned for judicial review of that
decision. Cross-motions for summary judgment were filed and,
after a hearing, the circuit court agreed with the Commission
and granted summary judgment in favor of Huntingtown and the
Collins noted this appeal, posing one question, which we have
rephrased as follows:
Did the release in the settlement agreement between Mr.
Collins, Huntingtown, Chesapeake, and Selective operate to
bar Mrs. Collins's claim for death benefits under the
Workers' Compensation Act?
following reasons, we hold that the release did not bar Mrs.
Collins's claim for death benefits. Accordingly, we shall
reverse the judgment of the circuit court with instructions
to enter summary judgment in favor of Mrs. Collins and remand
the case to the Commission for further proceedings not
inconsistent with this opinion.
pertinent facts are undisputed. On February 13, 2012, Mr.
Collins, then age 67,  filed a workers' compensation claim
with the Commission, alleging that he had developed heart
disease and hypertension caused by his firefighting work for
Huntingtown. The Maryland Workers' Compensation Act
("the Act") creates a presumption of compensability
for firefighters who develop heart disease and hypertension.
See Md. Code (1999, 2008 Repl. Vol., 2011 Supp.),
§ 9-503(a) of the Labor and Employment Article
("LE"). Mr. Collins claimed that as of May 6, 2011,
when Huntingtown was insured by Chesapeake, he became
disabled due to his occupational disease.
and Chesapeake contested the claim. Chesapeake disputed the
May 6, 2011 date of disablement, contending the correct date
was December 12, 1998, when Mr. Collins underwent surgery for
an aortic dissection. It successfully interpleaded Selective,
which insured Huntingtown in 1998.
March 19, 2014, following an evidentiary hearing, the
Commission found that Mr. Collins had sustained an
occupational disease (heart disease and hypertension),
arising out of and in the course of his employment as a
firefighter; that his last injurious exposure was with
Huntingtown; and that he was temporarily totally disabled as
of May 6, 2011, for one day, and from July 7, 2011 through
July 24, 2011. Later, the Commission found that Mr.
Collins's average weekly wage was $152.50.
Circuit Court for Calvert County, Huntingtown and Chesapeake
filed petitions for judicial review of the Commission's
decision. They both contested compensability generally and
Chesapeake contested the Commission's finding that the
date of last injurious exposure occurred in 2011. In a
cross-petition, Mr. Collins disputed the calculation of his
average weekly wage.
the petitions were pending, Mr. Collins and the appellees
agreed to settle the claim and filed a stipulation of
dismissal in the circuit court, which on March 13, 2015,
dismissed the case and remanded the matter to the Commission.
14, 2015, Mr. Collins entered into an "Agreement of
Final Compromise and Settlement" ("the
Agreement") with Huntingtown, as employer, Chesapeake,
as the insurer for Huntingtown, and Selective, as the
"alleged insurer" of Huntingtown. After reciting
the procedural background of Mr. Collins's claim, the
Agreement provided that, as part of the settlement, the
parties agreed that Mr. Collins's average weekly wage as
of his date of disablement was $526.87; that Selective would
pay him the lump sum of $100, 000; and that Chesapeake would
pay him the lump sum of $50, 000 and fund a "Medicare
Set Aside" annuity in the total amount of $47, 192. The
annuity would be funded with an initial lump sum payment of
$9, 438.08, followed by annual payments of $4, 194.88 for
nine years during Mr. Collins's lifetime. Huntingtown and
Chesapeake further agreed to pay Mr. Collins's
"causally related medical expenses" for "up to
45 days after the date [the Agreement was approved by the
Commission], or until the initial [payment funding the
Medicare Set-Aside was made], whichever date [came]
first[.]" Mr. Collins otherwise released Huntingtown,
Chesapeake, and Selective from any responsibility for medical
expenses incurred beyond 45-days from the date the Agreement
was approved by the Commission.
Paragraph 11 of the Agreement, Mr. Collins, as "the
Claimant," agreed to the following language of release
The Claimant hereby accepts this Agreement and the aforesaid
payment(s) in final compromise and settlement of any and all
Claims which the Claimant, his personal representative,
dependents, spouse and children or any other parties who
might become beneficiaries under the Workers'
Compensation Law, might now or could hereafter have under the
provision of the said Law, arising out of the aforesaid
injury or disablement or the disability resulting therefrom,
and does hereby, on behalf of himself and all of said other
parties, release and forever discharge the Employer
[Huntingtown], Chesapeake and Selective, their personal
representative, heirs, successors and assigns, from all other
claims of whatsoever kind which might or could hereafter
arise under the Law from the said injury, disablement or
Agreement was signed by Mr. Collins, his attorney, and
representatives of Huntingtown, Chesapeake, and Selective. It
was filed with the Commission on May 19, 2015, along with a
"Settlement Worksheet," a "Claimant's
Affidavit in Support of Settlement," a "Medicare
Set-Aside Allocation Recommendation" prepared by a
third-party firm, a letter from the Centers for Medicare and
Medicaid Services approving the Medicare Set-Aside, and
copies of medical bills for treatment Mr. Collins already had
received. In the "Claimant's Affidavit," which
must be submitted with a settlement agreement, Mr. Collins
asked the Commission "to approve the settlement of [his]
claim" and stated that he was "voluntarily settling
[his] claim." He acknowledged that by doing so, he was
giving up the right to future hearings before the Commission;
to "vocational rehabilitation services and to payment
during [his] lifetime for any medical treatment related to
[his] claim, except as provided [in the Agreement]"; to
compensation from the Subsequent Injury Fund, except as
provided in the Agreement; to seek to reopen his claim if his
condition worsened; and to appeal to the circuit court, this
Court, or the Court of Appeals.
4, 2015, the Commission approved the Agreement pursuant to LE
over two years later, Mr. Collins died from a cardiac arrest
secondary to his heart disease and hypertension. On July 11,
2017, Mrs. Collins filed a "Dependent's Claim for
Death Benefits" with the Commission, pursuant to LE
sections 9-683.1 through 9-683.5. On the claim form, she gave
May 6, 2011 as Mr. Collins's "Date of Injury"
and $1, 800 as his average weekly wage. She sought dependency
benefits and reimbursement for Mr. Collins's funeral
Commission held a hearing on Mrs. Collins's claim on
September 7, 2017. The issues in dispute were whether the
Release barred Mrs. Collins from receiving death benefits;
Mr. Collins's date of disablement; his average weekly
wage; and whether Mrs. Collins was partially or wholly
dependent upon Mr. Collins when he became disabled.
order of September 25, 2017, the Commission ruled that due to
the Release, Mrs. Collins had "no right to
survivorship/death benefits[, ]" and denied the claim
without reaching the other issues.
Circuit Court for Calvert County, Mrs. Collins filed a timely
petition for judicial review and prayed a jury trial.
Huntingtown and Chesapeake opposed the petition and moved for
summary judgment on the issue of release. Mrs. Collins
opposed the motion and filed a cross-motion for summary
judgment on that issue.
1, 2018, after a hearing on the motions, the circuit court
entered an opinion and order determining that the Release
barred Mrs. Collins's claim, and granted summary judgment
in favor of Huntingtown and Chesapeake. It subsequently
entered an order clarifying that judgment also was granted in
favor of Selective. This timely appeal followed.
any "typical administrative agency appeal . . . we . . .
look through the circuit court judgment to review the
decision of the Commission." Stine v.
MontgomeryCty., 237 Md.App. 374, 381 ...