ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Special Appeals said Thursday that a Baltimore firefighter’s pension and workers compensation had to be reduced to the level of his weekly salary at retirement.
Voting 3-0, the judges ruled that workers compensation payments to retired Baltimore firefighter Leonard E. Polomski were subject to reduction because he was also receiving pension payments.
The decision reversed a lower court ruling last year that Polomski, who suffers from heart disease, hypertension and lung impairment, was entitled to full workers compensation payments.
“We plan to appeal because we feel this is an important issue for the state,” said David Grant, Polomski’s lawyer. “Mr. Polomski felt that he was entitled to both because they are totally separate forms of compensation.”
Polomski, a 38-year veteran of the Baltimore Fire Department, stopped working in 1992 at age 63 because of the job- related illnesses. He applied first for retirement benefits and, a month later, for workers compensation.
In 1994, the Workers Compensation Commission concluded that Polomski was permanently disabled and entitled to $451 per week. The commission refused to consider any adjustments to that amount, court documents said.
The new payments, coupled with his pension of $564.35 a week, brought Polomski’s weekly income to $1,015.35.
The city appealed the commission’s decision, noting that the combined payments would exceed Polomski’s weekly salary at retirement, which was $676.32. This, the city’s lawyers argued, contravened state law pertaining to public safety workers.
The Baltimore City Circuit Court, however, found for Polomski.
But the Court of Special Appeals said the statute in question requires an adjustment so that “the weekly total of those compensation benefits and retirement benefits doesn’t exceed the weekly salary of a firefighter, police officer or fire fighting instructor.” The court sent the case back to circuit court and the workers compensation commission, with instructions to re-evaluate it in that light.
“We thought the language in the statute was pretty clear – there’s really no way around it,” said David B. Allen, who represented Baltimore. “The reason I think the statute is there is to limit the government’s liability to firefighters and other government workers who suffer from diseases that kill basically half of all Americans.” -30-