Board of County Com'rs of Howard County v. Fleming, s. 104-106

Decision Date26 October 1971
Docket NumberNos. 104-106,s. 104-106
Citation282 A.2d 512,13 Md.App. 261
PartiesBOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF HOWARD COUNTY et al. v. Mark Clinton FLEMING et al.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

R. Roger Drechsler, Baltimore, with whom were Lord, Whip, Coughlin & Green, Baltimore, on brief, for appellants.

Murray I. Resnick, Baltimore, with whom were Carl Berenholtz and Berenholtz, Kaplan & Hayman, Baltimore, on brief, for appellees.

Argued before ORTH, POWERS and GILBERT, JJ.

GILBERT, Judge.

All three of these appeals were filed by the Board of County Commissioners of Howard County, employer, and American and Foreign Insurance Company, insurer, from a judgment of the Superior Court of Baltimore City (Prendergast, J.) affirming decisions of the Workmen's Compensation Commission which held that appellees were covered by the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act. All three appeals are identical (except as to the nature of the injuries) and involve the same facts and question of law. We shall, therefore, treat them as one.

The sole question presented is whether or not the appellees should be afforded coverage under the provisions of § 34 of Article 101.

The three appellees, volunteer firemen, were watching a telecast of a baseball game on Sunday, July 20, 1969, at approximately 6:15 p. m. In response to an alarm, they boarded a fire engine and started toward the scene of a barn fire. Enroute, the fire vehicle skidded on mud at the intersection of Forsythe Road and Old Frederick Road and struck a tree. All of the appellees sustained injuries. Thereafter, they filed claims with the Workmen's Compensation Commission. Appellants contested the claims on the basis hereinafter stated.

Appellants argue that subsection (c) of Section 34 of Article 101, in effect at the time of the accident, precludes appellees from an award by the Commission, and that the trial judge misconstrued the legislative intent when he upheld the Commission's findings. The provision of the Act relied upon by appellants to support their position is:

'(c) * * *-The county commissioners of Kent County and County Council of Howard County shall secure compensation to volunteer firemen in case of death, or to their dependents by insuring the payment of such compensation in the State Accident Fund or in any private stock corporation or mutual association authorized to provide such insurance. The County Commissioners of Prince George's County and the County Council of Anne Arundel County shall secure compensation to volunteer firemen, or to their dependents in case of death, * * *.'

The appellants earnestly contend that the wording in the statute clearly manifests an intention of the legislature to distinguish the coverage provided to volunteer firemen in Howard County from that granted to those in Prince George's and Anne Arundel Counties. They state that in Howard County a volunteer fireman's dependents may recover in the event of the fireman's death, but the fireman may not assert a claim for injuries. This is so, they say, because subsection (c) distinguishes Howard County from Prince George's and Anne Arundel Counties. In Prince George's and Anne Arundel Counties there is no question but that compensation is payable to the firemen for accidental injuries. However, appellants maintain that the language of the statute is more restrictive in its application to Howard County, and the coverage extended is less encompassing.

We are called upon to construe § 34, Art. 101. In Pineland Lumber Co. v. Miles, 228 Md. 584, 587-588, 180 A.2d 870, 872 (1962), the Court of Appeals said:

'The cardinal rule of statutory interpretation is that the intent of the legislature is to be sought in the first instance from the words used in the statute, and where there is no ambiguity or obscurity in the statute, the words used are conclusively presumed to embody the meaning of the legislature in enacting the statute.' See also Board of Supervisors of Elections of Baltimore City v. Weiss, 217 Md. 133, 141 A.2d 734; McKeon v. State, Use of Conrad, 211 Md. 437, 127 A.2d 635; State Tax Commission v. Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., 193 Md. 222, 66 A.2d 477; Height v. State, 225 Md. 251, 170 A.2d 212 (1961); Subsequent Injury Fund v. Chapman, 11 Md.App. 369, 274 A.2d 870 (1971).

Subsection (c) of Section 34 of Article 101 provides that the county commissioners of Howard County 'shall secure compensation to volunteer firemen in case of death, or to their dependents * * *.' (Emphasis supplied). Obviously, compensation could not be payable to the volunteer firemen in the event of their death, but would be payable to the deceased fireman's dependents. If the legislature had meant to provide, as appellants contend, that compensation would be paid only to the dependents of volunteer firemen in the event of the death of the firemen, then there would have been no need for it to have inserted the conjunction 'or', which denotes an alternative. If appellants' interpretation of the statute is correct, there is no alternative. What then was the legislative intent when the legislature adopted subsection (c)? In order to ascertain the intent of the General Assembly when it enacted subsection (c) providing coverage for the volunteer firemen of Howard County, we must look to the legislative history of § 34, Art. 101. 1 The pertinent parts of Section 34 of Article 101, in effect on the date of the accident of July 20, 1969, provided:

'(a) Volunteer firemen and members of rescue squads deemed workmen and engaged in extra-hazardous employment-Caroline, Kent, Howard and Anne Arundel Counties.-All members of all volunteer fire companies in Caroline, Kent, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, and all members of all rescue squads in Caroline, Kent and Anne Arundel counties, while going to or returning from or fighting a fire or while engaged as a member of any ambulance, first aid or rescue squad created within such fire companies shall be deemed workmen for wages and engaged in extra-hazardous employment within the meaning of this article. (Emphasis supplied).

'(b) Wages, salary, etc., upon which compensation based.-Compensation for injury or death shall be based upon the salary or wages received by a volunteer fireman in his private employment. Any volunteer fireman whose income is derived from any source other than salary or wages shall be entitled to the maximum compensation for injury or, in the case of death, his dependents shall be entitled to the maximum compensation for death; provided, however, that where any volunteer fireman is not actively engaged in a business enterprise at the time of his injury or death, compensation for injury or death shall be paid upon the basis of the weekly income last received by him when so engaged; and further provided, that if such fireman has never been engaged in a business enterprise, compensation for injury or death shall be the minimum compensation authorized by this article. (Emphasis supplied).

'(c) Insurance; tax; limitation on size of companies and rescue squads.-The county commissioners of Kent County and Howard County shall secure compensation to volunteer firemen in case of death, or to their dependents by insuring the payment of such compensation in the State Accident Fund or in any private stock corporation or mutual association authorized to provide such insurance. The County Commissioners of Prince George's County and the County Council of Anne Arundel County shall secure compensation to volunteer firemen, or to their dependents in case of death, by insuring the payment of such compensation in the State Accident Fund or in any private stock company or mutual association licensed to provide such insurance. The County Commissioners of Kent County shall annually levy upon the assessable property of Kent County a tax sufficient to pay for such insurance. The County Commissioners of Howard County shall annually levy upon the assessable property of Howard County a tax sufficient to pay for such insurance.

'(d) Carroll County.-In Carroll County any volunteer fire company may elect to have its members and/or its employees considered as workmen for wages under the provisions of this article and the company so electing shall provide for payment of premiums on behalf of its members to be covered by this article.'

The concept of relief for volunteer firemen injured in the course of their benevolent efforts on behalf of their fellow men first appeared in Chapter 805 of the Acts of 1945, and provided coverage for volunteer firemen of Kent County only. At that time Chapter 805 was codified as § 46A of Article 101. In 1957, Article 101 was changed and the section dealing with volunteer firemen became § 34. Howard County was added to the...

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