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CSA: Workers’ comp calculations based on contract, not actual earnings

Employees injured on the job are entitled to workers’ compensation calculated based on the salary in their contract agreement, not salary earned in the weeks prior to the accident, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court has held.

The ruling by the Court of Special Appeals upholds Dexter Wagstaff’s award from the Workers’ Compensation Commission, which based its decision on his working a 40-hour work week despite the fact he worked an average of under 17 hours per week his first six weeks on the job.

Wagstaff, a lift operator for Easton-based Richard Beavers Construction Inc., was seriously injured at a construction site in April 2013 when he fell 18 feet through a roof and landed face-first on a warehouse floor, according to the court’s reported opinion. He suffered multiple facial injuries and hurt his shoulder, neck, spine, knee and back, according to the opinion.

Wagstaff was hired full-time that February and scheduled to work 40 hours per week but not supposed to work when it was raining or snowing, the opinion states. Inclement weather kept Wagstaff from working full, 40-hour weeks at the start of his employment, and he was only paid for the time he worked, the opinion states.

Wagstaff’s claim with the Workers’ Compensation Commission recorded his weekly salary as $758, the amount that he would have earned from working 40 hours, the opinion states. But RBCI claimed Wagstaff actually earned an average of $317.38 per week during the six weeks before the accident.

The commission sided with Wagstaff, finding his “true average weekly wage” was $758, and ordered RBCI to pay him two-thirds of his weekly salary for temporary total disability, the opinion states.

A Talbot County Circuit Court judge confirmed the commission’s decision in the fall of 2016, prompting RBCI to seek review from the Court of Special Appeals.

Judge Kevin F. Arthur, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel March 1, said RBCI’s argument that Wagstaff was “receiving a windfall for being injured” was based on a “dubious theory” that his work schedule in his first six weeks on the job was representative of his normal working hours.

“If the six-week sample significantly understated his normal working hours, then using it to determine his benefits would result in an unwarranted windfall for the employer and insurer,” Arthur wrote. “Little imagination is needed to think of scenarios in which an inflexible requirement tying an injured employee’s compensation to pre-accident earnings would subvert the goal of compensating employees for lost earning capacity.”

Wagstaff was represented by Jeffrey A. Miller, a Baltimore solo practitioner. RBCI was represented by James A. Turner, an associate at Godwin, Erlandson & Daney LLC in Ellicott City. Neither lawyer responded to a request for comment Friday.

The case is Richard Beavers Construction, Inc., et al. v. Dexter Wagstaff, No. 1977, Sept. Term, 2016.

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