In an effort to address the three main considerations of any workers’ compensation system: adequacy, equity, and efficiency, the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission adjudicates workers’ compensation claims by holding abbreviated evidentiary hearings before a commissioner, usually within two to three months after a party requests a hearing. At these “cattle call” hearings, medical evidence is admitted by report and some factual testimony is admitted by proffer.
Within a week or so after the hearing, the commission will issue a short award or order, sometimes as short as one line. The commission has wide latitude in rendering decisions with no requirement that the commissioner explain the rational for the award or order such as the “well-reasoned” standard in Pennsylvania.
The parties may appeal the commission’s decision to a trial court. An appeal may occur in one of two ways: (1) the submission of the case to a judge, on the record, made before the commission; or (2) a de novo evidentiary hearing before a trial court, sitting with or without a jury. The filing of an appeal does not stay the commission’s award of benefits. The only exceptions to this are awards of counsel fees and past medical expenses, pending an appeal. Maryland also has no provision permitting an employer or insurer to recoup benefits paid during the pendency of a successful appeal. This can lead to harsh results.
An example is the award of permanency benefits for worsening of condition. Maryland is a permanency state. The commission awards permanency benefits once the claimant’s condition has reached maximum medical improvement. After an award of permanency benefits, a claimant can seek additional permanency benefits for worsening of condition by filing a request within five years from the last payment under the prior award. Benefits for worsening of condition are payable from the last payment under the prior award. Therefore, an employer or insurer could be on the hook for five plus years of compensation with no possibility of recoupment on appeal.
Given the lack of stay on appeal of a commission award, as well as the costs of an appeal to a trial court, an employer or insurer needs to be well prepared at the commission level because that may well be its only shot to minimize exposure.