Maryland Courts Affirm that the Average Weekly Wage Will Not be Liberally Construed
The Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act is to be liberally construed in favor of the claimant. However, there are boundaries, one of which is the computation of a claimant’s average weekly wage as the Court of Special Appeals articulated in Stine v. Montgomery County, 237 Md.App. 374 (2018). In Stine, the claimant was working as a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT) for Montgomery County while studying as a nursing student. On duty, he injured his foot stepping off an ambulance and initiated a workers’ compensation claim where the only issue in the case was his average weekly wage. At the hearing, the commission found that the claimant’s AWW was $64.65, his average wage in the fourteen weeks preceding his injury. The claimant appealed the commissions determination of his average weekly wage and retained a vocational expert to testify that, under normal circumstances, his wage as an EMT would increase after he graduated and obtained his nursing degree, warranting a higher average weekly wage. The circuit court excluded this testimony and the claimant appealed that decision to the Court of Special Appeals.
On appeal, the claimant argued that Md. Code, Lab & Empl. § 9-602(a)(3) governed the calculation of his average weekly wage, permitting the commission to set the claimant’s average weekly wage higher than $64.65 by taking into account his expected pay increase upon obtaining his nursing degree. The county argued that Md. Code, Lab & Empl. § 9-602(g)(1) was the proper provision as it was specific to members of a volunteer fire or rescue organization. The Court of Special Appeals determined that because the ordinary meaning of § 9-602(g)(1) was sufficiently clear as it applied specifically to the claimant as a volunteer EMT, the commission did not have the authority to consider the claimant’s expected increase in wages. The court reasoned “where the meaning of the Workers’ Compensation Act is unclear, the interpreter should resolve any uncertainty in favor of the claimant, although the statute’s plain meaning should not be ignored, nor should ambiguity be created where none exists simply to allow an injured worker to prevail.”
If the plain language of the statute is clear, as it is with volunteer fire or rescue workers, the claimant should not be afforded any liberal interpretation on the calculation of his average weekly wage. It is good to know that the Maryland courts are placing some limitations on how far the act can be stretched.