When does Maryland workers’ compensation cover injury from assault?

Feb 25, 2021 | Workers' Compensation

When people think about the typical workers’ compensation claim, they think about something relatively common like carpel tunnel from data entry or burns from working by hot, industrial equipment. It may surprise you that on occasion – if the circumstances are right – the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act (Act) allows coverage for an employee’s injury or death from assault by another person.

Compensable injuries generally

Like other states, Maryland requires that for an employee’s workers’ compensation claim for injury or illness to be covered by the Act, the harm must have been an “accidental” injury that “arose out of” and was sustained “in the course of employment.” The Act and Maryland judges have interpreted “accidental” very broadly, not only in the sense of an unexpected occurrence that harms someone.

As the Maryland Law Encyclopedia puts it, “While the word ‘accident’ in its ordinary and usual implication is associated with ideas of trauma and involves, to a degree at least, elements of force, violence, and surprise, the Act expands its meaning to include any mishap resulting in physical injury produced by some unusual and extraordinary condition or happening in the employment.”

How is an assault accidental?

The state legislature addressed this question in how it defined “accidental personal injury” in the Act. Namely, it includes “an injury caused by a willful or negligent act of a third person directed at a covered employee in the course of the employment of the covered employee.”

In the context of an assault then, the claimant need only show it happened in the course of employment, but not that it arose out of work duties. Each situation involving a potentially work-related assault is very dependent on the unique circumstances of the incident.

Court holding

For example, in Edgewood Nursing Home v. Maxwell, an estranged romantic partner shot and killed an employee while the employee was on duty at the nursing home where she worked. Even though the personal relationship that caused the shooting was not work-related, it was a covered injury because it occurred in the course of employment. The court reasoned that because it happened while she was physically present at work and during work hours, even though it happened for personal reasons, it was sufficiently within the course of employment to qualify her surviving daughter for workers’ compensation death benefits.

A Maryland workers’ compensation attorney can answer questions about workers’ compensation coverage, including in more obscure circumstances like injury from assault.