Friday, December 29, 2006

Hart v. Subsequent Injury Fund (Ct. of Special Appeals)

Decided December 29, 2006 -- Opinion by Judge Deborah S. Eyler.

Appellant appealed the Circuit Court for Kent County's granting of summary judgment against her in an appeal of a denial of subsequent injury benefits before the Workers Compensation Commission.

In September 2002, Appellant had impleaded the Subsequent Injury Fund in her workers' compensation case, but settled her claims shortly thereafter against her employer and its carrier by an "Agreement of Final Compromise and Settlement." The Agreement included a "guide form" questionnaire which asked, inter alia, whether the Subsequent Injury Fund had potential liability. Appellant answered that question in the affirmative.

In her appeal, Appellant argued that

1) She had informed the Workers Compensation Commission in her Guide Form that she had a claim pending against the Subsequent Injury Fund;

2) She did not affirmatively or in any other way give up her rights against the Subsequent Injury Fund; and

3) It was incumbent upon the Workers Compensation Commission itself to "either insure that the Claimant/Appellant's right to proceed further against the [Subsequent Injury Fund] was preserved or to affirmatively inform her that by signing the proposed Agreement she would finally and forever give up her rights against the [Subsequent Injury Fund]."

The Court of Special Appeals noted that the Code, LE §9-722, precluded in plain language any action against the Subsequent Injury Fund after a settlement of claims, unless the Workers Compensation Commission ordered to the contrary, which did not occur, and did not require that a claimant expressly give up such rights to be effective. The Court rejected Appellant's interpretation of her response to the questionnaire regarding the Subsequent Injury Fund's possible liability, characterizing it not as a device for preserving a claim but as a mere tool to prevent unjust results against claimants.

Finding no facts in dispute, the Court sustained the judgment in favor of the Subsequent Injury Fund and denied Appellant's appeal.

The full opinion is available in WPD and PDF.

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