Case Update: CSA clarifies meaning of "paramedic" for purposes of LE §9-628; holds that EMT's qualify as public safety employees


In Downer v. Baltimore County, the Claimant was employed as an emergency medical technician (EMT) for Baltimore County Fire Department when she sustained compensable injuries to her neck. The Commission awarded permanent partial disability of 9% industrial loss of use of the body, amounting to 45 weeks of compensation. However, the Commission declined to award Claimant the benefits at the enhanced rate applicable to public safety employees pursuant to LE §9-628(h). Claimant appealed, and the Circuit Court affirmed the Commission's ruling denying Claimant the enhanced benefits.

The Court of Special Appels was called on to determine whether an EMT meets the statutory definition of a public safety employee as set forth in LE §9-628(a). That section identifies paramedics who are employed by a county, and volunteer ambulance, rescue, or advanced life support workers who are covered employees and provide services to a county to be public safety employees. Claimant argued that the daily activities and nature of her work as an EMT are significantly similar to that of a paramedic. The County argued that the statutory definition does not cover paid EMT employees. The County's personnel system included job descriptions that differentiate between a paramedic and an EMT.

The Court ultimately found that the Claimant should have been considered a public safety employee per LE §9-628(a)(1). After considering dictionary definitions for the term "paramedic" that would have been available to the legislature when adopting LE §9-628 and its predecessor, and the lack of a definition in the Act, the Court could not conclude that the General Assembly intended to exclude EMT's from the definition of "public safety employee". The Court rejected the County's argument that Claimant was not entitled to the enhanced benefits because she was a paid employee rather than a volunteer, noting that it would be illogical for the legislature to treat volunteers more advantageously than paid EMT's. The Court concluded that the term "paramedic" was used by the legislature in accordance with its commonly understood meaning and includes persons who are also known as EMT's.