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Employee’s Subsequent Injury Not Compensable

Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth. v. Williams
Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, No. 2316 (Md. App.) (April 26, 2012)

by Kevin M. Cox, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

In this case, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”) appealed the judgment of the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, which affirmed the ruling of the Workers’ Compensation Commission, that an injury to the right leg of Jan Williams (“Mr. Williams”) was causally related to the prior injury to his left leg; therefore his injury was covered by Workers’ Compensation benefits. One question was presented to the Court for review: Whether Mr. Williams’ March 23, 2009, right knee injury occurred when he was hit by a car while returning from lunch on a day when he was attending therapy, was causally related to the work accident of April 15, 2008, when he injured his back and left knee?

On April 15, 2008, Mr. Williams injured his back and left knee on the job. He underwent physical therapy, and while walking to a physical therapy session after finishing his lunch at a non-WMATA facility, Mr. Williams was hit by a car, resulting in an injury to his right knee for which he claimed Workers’ Compensation benefits.

The Workers’ Compensation Commission found that Mr. Williams’ disability to his right leg/knee was causally related to the accident, and awarded benefits. WMATA filed a petition for judicial review, and the Circuit Court found that Mr. Williams was not working at the time of the injury to his right knee. However, the Court found that he was rehabilitating at that point in time, and affirmed the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Commission, finding that Mr. Williams’s injury to his right knee was compensable. WMATA appealed to the Court of Special Appeals.

WMATA contended that reversal was required because of Mackin v. Harris. In that case, a claimant’s injury was compensable through Workers’ Compensation when he was injured on his way to his physical therapist’s office, and he slipped and fell on a patch of ice and sustained an additional injury. Essentially, the claimant in that case argued that the second injury occurred as a consequence of the first, and should likewise be compensable. The Court of Appeals held that the proper standard to be applied in Maryland in such cases “is to view retrospectively what actually occurred, and then determine in a reasonable and practical matter whether there is a sufficient nexus between the earlier industrial accident and the later injury to constitute the latter as a ‘direct and natural result’ of the former, and to therefore establish causation.’”

Purporting to apply the Mackin standard to the present case, the Circuit Court stated that the basic rule is that a subsequent injury, whether an aggravation of the original injury, or a new and distinct injury is compensable, if it is the direct and natural result of a compensable and primary injury. In citing the Circuit Court’s decision, the Court of Special Appeals stated that the Circuit Court failed to note that, in Mackin the Court of Appeals actually adopted a significantly narrow standard for determining whether subsequent injuries are compensable. The Court of Special Appeals focused on this narrower standard and held that WMATA’s position was supported by the Mackin Court’s analysis. Specifically, there was not a sufficient nexus between Mr. Williams’s two accidents for the Circuit Court to conclude that there was a direct causal connection between the first accidental injury to his left knee, and the subsequent injury to his right knee. The Court of Special Appeals noted that the Mackin Court expressly required the demonstration of a “direct and material relationship,” which the Court said was akin to the concept of proximate cause in tort law. There must be “‘a direct causal connection’ between the accidental injury and the subsequent injury. Here, according to the Court, Mr. Williams’s second injury was not caused by his first injury.

The appropriate method of analysis and the method adopted in Mackin, is to view, retrospectively what actually occurred and then determine in a reasonable and practical manner whether there is a sufficient nexus between the earlier industrial accident and later injury. In other words, in the context of subsequent injuries, the key to the analysis of whether a subsequent injury is covered as an extension of the prior covered injury is whether the first injury proximately caused the second injury.

Mr. Williams’s case was distinct from scenarios under which Maryland courts have held that a subsequent injury is attributable to a previous covered injury. For instance, Mr. Williams did not contend that the April 15, 2008, injury reduced his mobility and thereby prevented him from avoiding the car. Therefore, Mr. Williams’s case did not fall into line with Maryland cases that allow Workers’ Compensation recovery when a compensable injury physically leads to a second injury. Furthermore, the Mackin Court rejected the contention that the statutory requirement that an employer pay for medical treatment for injuries covered by Workers’ Compensation sufficiently connects the treatment of the injuries to the employment to furnish the requisite “direct causal connection.”

For these reasons, the Court of Special Appeals concluded that the Circuit Court committed legal error when it failed to recognize and apply the more narrow view of compensability adopted by the Court of Appeals in Mackin, and that failure led to an incorrect result in this case. Therefore, the Court of Special Appeals reversed the decision of the Circuit Court.


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