New Case Update - Subsequent Injury at Work Hardening Facility Not Compensable


Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority v. Williams, 2012 Md. App. LEXIS 46 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Apr. 26, 2012)

This case is an appeal by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the Employer, of the judgment of the Circuit Court which affirmed the ruling by the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission, which found that the injury to Claimant's right leg was causally related to his left leg injury. The Court of Special Appeals reversed the decision of the Circuit Court.

The Claimant injured his right knee when he was hit by a car in the parking lot of the facility where he was attending work hardening for a work-related injury to his left leg. Claimant was attending work hardening for his left leg injury at a facility that was not owned by the Employer. On the second to last day of his therapy, the Claimant had lunch in his vehicle in the parking lot of the facility, and upon returning to the facility, was struck by a car, injuring his right knee.

The Workers' Compensation Commission found the disability of the Claimant's right leg causally related to the originally work-related injury. The Circuit Court affirmed this finding.

The Employer argued that Mackin & Assocs. v. Harris, 342 Md. 1 (Md. 1996) required reversal of the Circuit Court's decision. Mackin involved a Claimant who slipped and fell on a patch of ice while on his way to physical therapy for a work-related injury. The Court in Mackin discussed the concept of "quasi-course of employment," defined as "activities undertaken by the employee following upon his injury, and would not be considered employment activities for usual purposes, but are related to the employment as they are necessary or reasonable activities that would not have been undertaken but for the compensable injury."

The Court in Mackin adopted a narrower rule regarding the compensability of subsequent injuries. They held that a subsequent injury is compensable if it is the direct and material result of a compensable primary injury. It was further clarified that the "but for" test was too expansive and that instead it must be determined whether a "sufficient nexus" exists between the original injury and the subsequent injury to establish a direct causal connection.

In following, and therefore affirming Mackin, the Court in this case found that there was not a sufficient nexus between Williams' two accidents to allow the subsequent injury to be compensable. The Court also explained that for a sufficient nexus to exist, the first injury must be the proximate cause (both factual or "but for" causation and legal or "direct and material" causation) of the subsequent injury. The Court found that the second injury was caused by the person driving the car that hit the Claimant, not the original compensable accident. The negligence of the driver could not at all be attributed to the first injury. The Court reversed the findings of the Circuit Court and remanded the matter back to the Commission for findings in accordance with their opinion.

Though not raised in the appeal, the Court commented on whether the subsequent injury would, alone, be a compensable injury. Citing Trojan Boat Co. v. Bolton, 11 Md. App. 665 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1971), the Court opined that the proper procedure was to have the Commission make the first determination on this issue, but that it was possible that the subsequent accident would be a compensable injury on its own merits.