Belcher v. T. Rowe Price Foundation, Inc., 78

Decision Date01 September 1992
Docket NumberNo. 78,78
Citation621 A.2d 872,329 Md. 709
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Jeff E. Messing, Baltimore, on brief, for appellant.

Alan M. Carlo (Mason, Ketterman & Morgan, on brief), Baltimore, for appellee.

Rudolph L. Rose (Stan M. Haynes, Semmes, Bowen & Semmes of Baltimore, on brief), amicus curiae for American Ins. Ass'n, Bethlehem Steel Corp., Certainteed Corp., The Injured Workers' Ins. Fund, and The National Council on Compensation Ins.

Argued before ELDRIDGE, RODOWSKY, McAULIFFE, CHASANOW, KARWACKI and ROBERT M. BELL, and CHARLES E. ORTH, Jr., (Retired, Specially Assigned) JJ.

ORTH, Judge.


On this appeal we visit once again the Workers' Compensation Act, now codified as Title 9 in the Labor and Employment article of the Maryland Code (1991). 1 We are called upon to determine the expanse of the phrase "accidental personal injury" in the contemplation of the Act. The phrase appears first in § 9-101 under the subtitle "Definitions." Subsection (b) provides in relevant part:

"Accidental personal injury" means:

(1) an accidental injury that arises out of and in the course of employment;

(2) an injury caused by a willful or negligent act of a third person directed against a covered employee in the course of the employment of the covered employee....

" 'Covered employee' means an individual listed in Subtitle 2 of [the Act] for whom a person ... is required by law to provide coverage under [the Act]." § 9-101(f). The Act applies to an employer "who has at least 1 covered employee." § 9-201(1). Generally, "an individual ... is a covered employee while in the service of an employer under an express or implied contract ... of hire." § 9-202(a). Ordinarily, "each employer of a covered employee shall provide compensation in accordance with [the Act]"

to the covered employee for an accidental personal injury sustained by the covered employee....

§ 9-501(a)(1). "An employer is liable to provide compensation in accordance with subsection (a) of [§ 9-501], regardless of fault as to a cause of the accidental personal injury." § 9-501(b). The Act commands that it "shall be construed to carry out its general purpose." § 9-102(a). It declares: "The rule that a statute in derogation of the common law is to be strictly construed does not apply to this [Act]." § 9-102(b) These dictates are to assure that the Act's benevolent purpose as remedial social legislation will be effectuated. Alitalia Linee Aeree Italiane, et al. v. Tornillo, 329 Md. 40, 617 A.2d 572, 576 (1993); Lovellette v. City of Baltimore, 297 Md. 271, 282, 465 A.2d 1141 (1983).


Carol Belcher sought compensation under the Act. Upon a plenary hearing, the Workers' Compensation Commission disallowed her claim. She took her cause to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. The court ruled in accord with the Commission. Belcher sought relief in the Court of Special Appeals. We intervened before the intermediate court entertained the case and, on our own motion, certified it to us for resolution. 328 Md. 35, 612 A.2d 897 (1992).


We learn of the circumstances leading to Belcher's claim for compensation through the transcript of the hearing before the Commission and from a statement of facts gleaned from that transcript and agreed upon by the parties.

Belcher was employed as a secretary for T. Rowe Price Foundation, Inc. Her desk was in the northwest corner of the top floor in downtown Baltimore's IBM building. Another office high-rise was being erected next to the IBM building, and the din of nearby construction made its way into Belcher's workplace. Occasionally she had trouble hearing people on the phone. At times the floor beneath her would vibrate, and things would bump on the roof. Overall, the intrusions were barely tolerable. Then on the morning of 11 April 1991 disaster struck. A three-ton beam being hoisted by a construction crane broke loose and tumbled some twenty feet, crashing without warning through the thick concrete roof over Belcher's head. It landed five feet from where she sat at her desk tending to the day's business. The sound was deafening; it was if a bomb had exploded. The lights in the office went out; pipes and wires were ripped apart; debris sifted over her and her surroundings; concrete dust went down her throat. "I couldn't move. I could not get up to move out of the way." Her employer immediately sought trauma counselling for her. The counselling proved to be ineffective. She "suffered sleep disturbances, nightmares, heart palpitations, chest pain, and headaches as a result of the occurrence." She came under the care of a psychiatrist, Alan H. Peck, M.D., for "evaluation and treatments for the emotional/mental trauma [she] suffered as a result of this injury, this accident." She saw him some twenty-two times. Dr. Peck's reports were introduced into evidence at the hearing. His initial report, under date of 8 May 1991 included a history of the accident. When the beam fell

[s]he was frozen in fear, did not know what had happened and wondered if it had been a bomb. She was quite shaken. She seemed to have had some amnesia for the next several hours but was told that she was shaking, chain smoking and holding onto the walls. She was, at that point, quite cold and may have been in shock. Concrete pieces were all over her bodice. There are still some nuggets present on her desk. She went home early that day, quite upset, could not sleep, and ironed the entire night. She returned to work the next day and found she could not look up at the building although she did enter it and try to do her job. She has had serious emotional problems since this incident which have been quite bothersome for her. Prior to the incident she saw herself as a very solid woman in control who enjoyed the ability to have some say over her life and was proud of her work history particularly at the T. Rowe Price Company. She has raised three children and always felt that she could take care of whatever came her way. Now she is upset over the fact that she is unsure and her chest constantly hurts as does her shoulder. Headaches occur and she often has dry mouth. She is fearful of a heart attack. She feels like she may explode. She has panic attacks at work and sometimes has to leave the area. She is fearful that she may not be able to return. She has had ongoing nightmares, waking up screaming several times and, in each nightmare, she herself has been killed. She finds she now is easily startled and has become quite irritable with loved ones particularly her children which bothers her. She has had some weight gain, a loss of senses and, at times feels "as if she is dead".

Dr. Peck in his last report before the hearing, stated that he had first seen her "for symptoms of a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of a work related incident...." He said:

In addition to some physical problems, the most important aspect has been the overwhelming psychological problems for Miss Belcher.

He opined that Belcher "suffers a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of this incident."

He concluded:

According to the Guides of the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, 3rd Edition of the American Medical Association, Miss Belcher suffers a Class 3 impairment or moderate impairment where "impairment level are incompatible with some but not all useful function," or a 40% psychiatric disability as a result of this incident.

There was no evidence that Belcher had received treatment for any purely physical condition, or for any of her physical manifestations.

The Commission issued an order which set out that a hearing had been held on the following issues:

1. Did the employee sustain an accidental personal injury arising out of and in the course of employment?

2. Is the disability of the employee the result of an accidental personal injury arising out of and in the course of employment?

The Commission found that

the claimant did not sustain an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of employment as alleged to have occurred on 11 April 1989; and finds that the disability of the claimant is not the result of the alleged accidental injury....

The Commission disallowed Belcher's claim.


The Commission's disallowance of Belcher's claim prompted her appeal to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. She asserted that the holdings of the Commission were erroneous. Each side filed a motion for summary judgment. After hearing arguments from counsel at the hearing on the motions, the judge found it

hard to believe with all the Workmen's Compensation cases that have passed through these courts and the courts of the State of Maryland, that there has not been a case that is on all fours with this....

He thought that the issue presented was

whether or not a purely mental condition is compensable where there is no physical injury.

He deemed it to be "really a simple issue, but complicated to interpret...." He suggested that "[o]ne could argue either side of this ... very comfortably, ... as both [counsel] have," and "[b]ased on what I have read, the courts could go in either direction, quite honestly." He recognized that the Act is to be liberally construed under the law, but he warned, "liberal construction does not change the meaning of the words." He iterated: "There has not been a case such as this ... when there is no medical treatment but purely mental treatment." He doubted that in such circumstances the Act permitted compensation. He opined that the Court of Special Appeals had so indicated in Le v. Federated Dep't Stores, 80 Md.App. 89, 560 A.2d 42 (1989), but, he observed, the Court of Appeals has not spoken on the matter. He concluded:

"As I am bound by the law and not a law writer, I will [in accord with Le,] abide by what I believe the law is today. And for that reason [Belcher's] Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied. The [employer's] Motion for...

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