In Maryland workers’ compensation claim, employer must show actual prejudice from late notice
In Melody Elste v. ISG Sparrows Point, LLC et al., ___Md. App.___, ___A.2d___(2009), Maryland's intermediate appellate court examined when an employer is "prejudiced" by an employee's failure to provide notice of an accidental injury within ten days of the injury's occurrence as required by Md. Code (2008 Repl. Vol., 2009 Supp.), secs. 9-704 and 9-706 of the Labor and Employment Article. The court determined that prejudice is established when an employer produces concrete evidence that indicates that the employee's failure to provide notice of his or her injury within ten days of the injury's occurrence caused actual harm to the employer's legal interests.
Melody J. Elste twisted her right knee on July 27, 2006 while working a safety shift at ISG Sparrows Point ("Sparrows Point"). Ms. Elste did not report her injury to Sparrows Point until 19 days later, on August 14, 2006, upon returning from a one week camping vacation. On September 9, 2006, Ms. Elste underwent knee surgery and on October 10, 2006, she filed a claim for workers compensation benefits.
The Workers Compensation Commission awarded Ms. Elste temporary total disability benefits. Sparrows Point sought judicial review of the Commission?s award in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. During the jury trial for the matter, Ms. Elste moved for judgment at the close of Sparrows Point's case, and again at the close of all evidence, arguing that Sparrows Point had produced "no evidence whatsoever" that it was prejudiced by her failure to provide it with notice of her injury within ten days of the injury's occurrence. The circuit court judge denied the motions and the jury concluded that Ms. Elste had not given Sparrows Point timely notice of her injury. Ms. Elste filed a motion for JNOV, which was also denied. An appeal to the Court of Special Appeals ensued.
Before the Court of Special Appeals, Sparrows Point argued that it was prejudiced by Ms. Elste's failure to notify it of her injury within ten days of her accident because it was denied the opportunity to timely investigate the accident and to evaluate Ms. Elste's pre-vacation condition. The Court of Special Appeals rejected these arguments, holding that "an employee?s mere participation in [an] intervening activity, or an employer's inability to conduct an immediate investigation, cannot, by themselves, constitute prejudice." The court emphasized that under secs. 9-704 and 9-706 of the Labor and Employment Article, prejudice is established only when an employer offers specific evidence regarding how an employee's failure to provide notice of an injury harmed the employer's legal interests. The court noted that, in this case, such evidence could have included that a change had occurred in Ms. Elste's condition, the scene of the accident, or the memory of one of the witnesses. Due to the lack of such evidence, the Court of Special Appeals held that the trial court erred in denying Ms. Elste's motion for judgment and her motion for JNOV.
Posted by Mandy Wolfe on 11/02/2009 at 08:29 PM