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Md. Top Court Holds that Questioning Claimant about Workers’ Comp Bore No Relevancy to Criminal Charges against Defendant

21 Jul, 2023 Frank Ferreri

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Baltimore, MD (WorkersCompensation.com) -- It's not often that workers' compensation and criminal law come up in the same case, but it's not unheard of, either.

For example, in a recent case out of Maryland, Calloway v. State, 2023 WL 4229966 (Md. 06/28/23), defense counsel was prohibited from questioning a county employee (who was also the victim of a crime on the job) about his workers' compensation claim.

The Incident

On the day in question, the employee was loading vehicles onto a ferry and refused to let a driver board his pick-up truck on the ferry because it was overweight. The driver allegedly became "irate," and a shouting match ensued.

Although disputed in the criminal case, the jury decided that the driver struck the employee with his vehicle. The injuries that the worker experienced were:

--> Internal bruising
--> A torn ligament in his right knee

During the criminal trial, the prosecution objected on relevancy grounds to defense counsel's questioning the employee about his workers' compensation claim.

Arguing that defense counsel's questioning was relevant in that it would create evidence of a motive to lie about "going to the hospital and things like that," the defendant appealed the trial court's ruling.

Under Maryland's rules of evidence, "relevant evidence" means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.

Workers' Comp 101: In Edgewood Nursing Home v. Maxwell, 282 Md. 422 (Md. 1978), while working, an employee was shot and killed by her estranged paramour. The employee's child was entitled to workers' compensation benefits because, the injury was "work-related in the sense that even though it arose for personal reasons not attributable to the working environment, it occurred within the course of employment on the employer's premises at a time when the employee was obliged to be present and at work; in other words, the employee's presence at the nursing home when the peril struck was a necessary part of her employment and the injury was inflicted in the course of that employment," according to the court.

Relevance?

In this case, in agreeing that the question was not relevant to the defendant's defense, the court highlighted that the standard of proof in a workers' compensation case differs from what the state has to prove in a criminal case.

"While testimony by [the employee] showing an intentional or reckless act by the appellant was essential to establish criminal liability for battery, testimony that the appellant acted negligently would suffice to establish that [the employee] sustained an 'accidental personal injury' for purposes of a workers' compensation claim," the court wrote. "Because [the employee] could prevail in a workers' compensation claim if the appellant acted negligently and irrespective of whether the appellant acted intentionally, he would not have a financial motive to testify that the appellant intentionally hit him with his pickup truck."

More to the point, the court also noted that the employee did not have to experience an injury for the jury to find the defendant guilty.

"A conviction for second-degree assault of the battery type did not require evidence that [the employee] any physical injury at all," the court reasoned. "The State had to prove that the appellant 'caused offensive physical contact with, or harm to'" the employee (emphasis in original).

In this case, the jury's verdict, which came within less than an hour and did not involve the jury asking questions about workers' compensation, stood.

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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Frank encourages everyone to consider helping out the Kind Souls Foundation and Kids' Chance of America.

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