ANNAPOLIS – The Court of Special Appeals ruled Thursday that government workers in Maryland cannot collect disability and retirement funds at the same time.
The full court said that the “governmental employee offset provision” of the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act is meant to prevent such “double dipping” by government workers.
The decision consolidated the cases of two Baltimore County workers: Mary E. Wills was collecting disability benefits when she applied for a pension and Jerry Blevins was getting disability retirement pay when he applied for belated disability benefits.
Del. Michael Comeau, D-Harford, argued both cases for Baltimore County in his other job as assistant county attorney. He lauded the court’s ruling, which he predicted would “send shock waves through the workers’ comp community.”
“Citizens of the state should be very pleased with this decision,” said Comeau, adding that it had the potential for huge savings for taxpayers.
An attorney for Wills said the ruling would come as a blow, since she had based her retirement decision on the expectation that she would get both sets of benefits.
“It was tremendously important to her,” said Hal C.B. Clagett III, who represented Wills on appeal.
“They [the court] did not read the statutes the way we read them,” said Clagett, who could not say if the decision would be appealed.
Wills was a clerical worker for the Baltimore County Office of Aging when she fell off a chair and hurt her back March 26, 1992. Wills, who was 70 at the time and had been working for the county for 30 years, filed a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Commission.
She was awarded temporary disability benefits, but the county paid her her full salary instead. About six months later she retired and began receiving a service-related retirement.
In January 1996, the county sought to reduce Wills’ workers’ compensation benefits by the amount of her retirement benefits, but the commission denied that request. The county appealed to circuit court and won, leading Wills to take her case to the Court of Special Appeals.
The appellate court ruled that Wills’ disability benefits were offset by her retirement benefits, even though the two were unrelated.
Blevins was a deputy Baltimore County police chief when he slipped and fell on a patch of ice in the department parking lot on Jan. 21, 1994, injuring his neck, back and shoulder.
He did not miss work because of the fall, but he filed for accidental disability retirement with the Employees’ Retirement System of Baltimore County. That request was approved and Blevins retired Nov. 16, 1995, and began collecting disability retirement benefits.
He then filed for permanent partial disability from his fall and was awarded $170 a week in benefits from the day after his injury until the day of his retirement. The commission specified, however, that any permanent partial disability payments after his retirement were to be offset by his pension benefits.
The county went to court, arguing that it should not have to pay Blevins benefits for the period before his retirement. A circuit court judge agreed and Blevins appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, which upheld the lower court’s ruling.
His attorney, James Farmer, said that because Blevins continued to work after his accident, he was not double-dipping.
“He worked during all of his disability,” said Farmer, unlike a lot of people who “will make sure they get all of their comp benefits and then retire.”