ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Appeals Wednesday unanimously dismissed a Baltimore woman’s attempt to get a portion of her ex-husband’s personal injury settlement, which he received after losing his leg in a 1984 accident.
The opinion by Court of Appeals Judge Lawrence Rodowsky stated that the Baltimore County Circuit Court did not abuse its discretion in denying Luvenilde Blake a share of Clifton Blake’s $1 million personal injury settlement.
But the higher court avoided addressing the larger question — whether personal injury settlements can be considered marital property. Instead, it dismissed the appeal on grounds that Ms. Blake and her lawyer had missed the filing deadline.
In 1984, while serving as a ship’s quartermaster in the merchant marine, Mr. Blake was struck by one of large mooring lines that keep ships abreast of their docks. He lost his left leg and suffered permanent damage to the right, court records show.
Mr. Blake, 67, has not worked since then. Ms. Blake, an
immigrant formerly employed as a housekeeper, now claims that she can’t work because of arthritis.
The Blakes separated in 1985 not long after Mr. Blake’s accident. The trial court decided that since Mr. Blake lost his leg, the award should be his alone to compensate him for the loss.
But the Court of Appeals’ ruling dwelt on a complex series of deadlines and interpretations of deadlines, and never reached the merits of the question.
Ms. Blake’s lawyer, Dennis Cuomo, could not be reached for comment. But Robert L. Bloom, representing Mr. Blake, said, “I think the issue the court should have dealt with was whether or not personal injury settlements constitute marital property.”
Judges Howard S. Chasanow and Robert M. Bell noted as much in a concurring opinion, observing that the case was heard to resolve the issue of whether personal injury settlements are marital property, and that the Rodowsky opinion did not address the issue.
The pair asserted that Mr. Blake’s settlement was “reparation for the damage” to his body. They added that “since Ms. Blake cannot share or assume any part of Mr. Blake’s bodily pain, suffering and loss, it would be inequitable for her to share in the compensation” that was paid to Mr. Blake for his injury. Maryland law allows spouses to share their injured mates’ settlements when the injury causes a “loss of society, affection and conjugal fellowship, including the loss or impairment of sexual relations between them.” -30-