The Maryland Court of Appeals has issued a recent ruling on the finality, otherwise knows as, a ‘full and final’ settlement of workers compensation benefits. In the case at bar in this decision, the issue before the Court revolved around subsequent death benefits. In the Matter of Collins, 242 Md. App. 188, 213 A.3d 794 (2019). The specific question before the Court was whether language within a workers comp settlement agreement releasing an employer/insurer from all future claims could bar a spouse’s subsequent claim for death benefits.
Here are the facts. On May 14, 2015, the claimant and insurance carriers entered into an agreement of final compromise and settlement. The Workers Compensation Commission approved the settlement and dismissed the claim. The claimant was paid a lump sum from the defendants that also included an award for medical expenses and a Medicare set aside annuity. The specific release language stated:
“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…does hereby, on behalf of himself and all said other parties, release and forever discharge the Employer [Huntington], Chesapeake and Selective…from all other claims of whatsoever kind which might or could hereafter arise…”
The claimant subsequently died of a heart attack and the claimant’s widow filed for death benefits, alleging that the heart attack was a result of the occupational disease work injury that was previously settled. The Commission issued a decision barring the widow from death benefits because of the prior compromise and settlement and specific release language. The widow appealed the decision. On appeal, the Circuit Court granted summary judgement in favor of the insurance carriers. The claimant then appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals.
The Maryland Court of Appeals, through analyzing case law and statutory language, identified a distinction between workers compensation benefits and death benefits. Specifically, the Court identified LE Section 9-722, which is a section covering claim settlements. The Court found the section specifically did not contemplate a covered worker settling and releasing his dependent’s future claim for death benefits. The Court held that the decedent is not barred from pursuing death benefits, that the widow was not a party to the claim, and therefore did not sign any agreements, that would limit her future recovery.