Baltimore Car Accident: New CSA Opinion

There is a big new Maryland Court of Special Appeals’ opinion. The Exxon case? Oh yeah. But that is 322 pages. I have not read it yet. I’ll throw up something briefly on this case later. In the meantime, let’s talk about the Maryland Court of Special Appeals’ opinion in Garrity v. Injured Workers’ Insurance Fund, an opinion issued this week that every Maryland car accident lawyer should read, particularly those like me who don’t handle workers’ comp cases.

If you handle motor vehicle injury claims, you need to be able to spot the issues with workers’ comp claims. If you can’t, you may be leaving your client’s risk-free money on the table without ever knowing that your client had another source of compensation. While comp claims are a huge hassle for lawyers handling car accident claims, because dealing with the comp lien can be a nightmare, you have to know whether your client might have a claim. One big step forward towards understanding what you need to know is an appreciation for the “comings and goings” rule and its exceptions. This opinion, written by Judge Michele D. Hotten, should help get you there. (I’m not sure how serious the accident was but the good news is that plaintiffs’ attorney’s brief to the court indicates that he is now back to work at the courthouse.)

The plaintiff in Garrity, a part time bailiff at the District Court for Baltimore City, was involved in serious car accident as he was driving back to the courthouse during the workday. The case starts off comically enough, the plaintiff wore a Christmas tie to work in the spring and had to go home to change his tie. He also spills something on the tie; it comes off like a classic episode of Three’s Company. But the good humor ends when the plaintiff gets into a head-on crash – an accident caused by the other driver – and ends up on shock trauma.

Plaintiff’s lawyer made three arguments in an effort to get this car accident covered by workers’ compensation. All three would fail. But it is worth taking a look at the arguments.

The first argument was that while injuries incurred while going to or coming from the place of employment are not generally not compensable, Plaintiff was on a “special mission” exception to this rule. Under this rule, if the employer requires a worker to undertake a special journey for the benefit of the employer, injuries which occur en route are compensable even if the trip may be only to or from the employee’s usual place of business. This argument failed because the bailiff did not have express or implied authority to leave the courthouse.

Plaintiff’s attorney (I keep saying Plaintiff when I know it is Claimant – I’m not a comp lawyer) then argued the crash should be covered under the dual purpose doctrine, another exception to the comings and goings rule. Under the dual purpose doctrine in Maryland, a trip which serves both a business and personal purpose is within the course of employment if the trip involves the performance of a service for the employer which would have caused the trip to be taken by someone else (even if the employee did a little something for themselves while they were out). Plaintiff lost this argument because, again, the employer never had a chance to make the call as to whether the interests of the courthouse would have been better served by appellant remaining at the courthouse. A supervisor, the workerscompensationcourt concluded, should have decided whether driving home to change a shirt and tie was furthering the interests of the employer.

Plaintiff’s last failed effort to bring this car crash under comp was the “personal comfort” exception. There are four factors used to determine whether this exception applies, but the court says it is not applicable here because the “personal comfort” exception is only applicable where the terms of employment provide a paid break in which an employer can attend to his or her personal comforts, and where an employer encourages a break that benefits the employer and the employee. Clearly, that was not the case here.

I like this opinion because it provided me a good overall education about Maryland workers’ comp – an area of law I don’t understand as well as I would like. Every tort attorney should read this case because it is going to help them spot the issue of whether their client can bring both a comp case along with their accident case. I know it is a hassle for us when there is a comp case because you have to deal with the workers’ compensation carrier on their lien when you do get a settlement or a verdict. But, more often than not, it is worth it for the client to take the sure thing of workers’ comp benefits if it is available.

You can read the whole opinion here

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