Wood v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 249

Decision Date04 February 1971
Docket NumberNo. 249,249
Citation260 Md. 651,273 A.2d 125
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Henry F. Leonnig, Upper Marlboro (Eugene E. Pitrof, Upper Marlboro, on the brief), for appellant.

J. Joseph Barse, Washington, D. C. (M. S. Mazzuchi, Washington, D. C., on the brief), for appellees.


FINAN, Judge.

In Gasch v. Britton, 92 U.S.App.D.C. 64, 202 F.2d 356 (1953) the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on the basis of its interpretation of Victory Sparkler & Specialty Co. v. Francks, 147 Md. 368, 128 A. 635 (1925), held that an award under the Workmen's Compensation Act of Maryland (Maryland Code (1964 Repl.Vol.) Article 101) is the employee's sole and exclusive remedy against the employer and precluded any award to the claimant under the Workmen's Compensation Law of the District of Columbia. In the present case the appellant has appealed a declaratory order of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County which followed the Gasch ruling and which further found that the employer's insurance policy did not provide coverage for benefits in addition to those benefits recovered by the claimant in Maryland. For the reasons we shall hereafter relate, we disagree with the ruling of the lower court on these two issues.

The following undisputed facts were presented to the court below:

The appellant was injured on or about February 23, 1967, while employed as an inside shop foreman by Suburban Glass Company, Inc., (Suburban) at its place of business in Prince George's County, Maryland. The appellee Aetna Casualty and Surety Company (Aetna) was the insurance carrier of Suburban for its workmen's compensation coverage for injuries sustained by its employees with regard to the laws of the State of Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. As a result of the accident which occurred during the course of his employment, the appellant received a severe injury to his spinal cord which permanently and totally incapacitated him. The appellant filed a claim with the Workmen's Compensation Commission of Maryland and is presently receiving benefits under the Workmen's Compensation Law of the State of Maryland. The appellant also filed a claim with the Bureau of Employees' Compensation, the unit in the District of Columbia corresponding to the Workmen's Compensation Commission of Maryland, for compensation under the law of the District of Columbia. At the time of the accident the appellant was 31 years of age and had a life expectancy to the age of 74.65 years. It also appears from the record that he worked in the District of Columbia at least three times in the year and a half preceding his injury.

It has been stipulated between the parties that the amount to which the appellant would be entitled at the District of Columbia rates for workmen's compensation over and above that which would be paid the appellant under the Workmen's Compensation Law of Maryland amounts to $118,886. 1

The lower court in its opinion noted that under the 'Declarations' Section of Aetna's policy it is stated:

'3. Coverage A of this policy applies to the workmen's compensation law and any occupational disease law of each of the following states: District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.'

Judge Bowie in commenting on this Section 3 observed that:

'* * * Item 3 does give coverage under the compensation laws of three states but does not state expressly or impliedly that additional benefits are contemplated. Instead, a reasonable reading of item 3 is that there is coverage in each of the jurisdictions in which Suburban's employees may work and, as here, when an employee is injured in one of those jurisdictions, he can seek relief in that jurisdiction as plaintiff has also done here.'

With regard to the comments made by the lower court relative to Section 3 of the policy we state immediately that they lose their significance when viewed in the light of our present determination that the Maryland Workmen's Compensation Act is not an exclusive remedy and also in view of the particular wording of the District of Columbia's Workmen's Compensation Act. We believe the inapplicability of the lower court's rationale will become more apparent as we develop the reasons underlying our conclusion. The lower court also placed some store in the fact that, 'under Item 4, only glaziers away from the shop seem to have coverage in three jurisdictions and under the facts as presented * * * he (appellant) was not away from the shop, rather, the plaintiff was working at the shop at the time of the accident.' Here again, in view of the District of Columbia Act we think the classifications in Section 4 are not pertinent to the question of whether Aetna's coverage would extend to a District of Columbia award or an award based on the District's Workmen's Compensation rates because the District's Act provides coverage for every employee of an employer carrying on employment in the District of Columbia. Indeed, the appellee in its brief states: 'appellee does not contest the fact that if the District of Columbia were to accept jurisdiction of appellant's claim and enter an award of compensation under the District of Columbia Compensation Laws then appellee would be bound by the District of Columbia action to provide insurance coverage for such benefits.'

It should also be noted that under the ruling of Cardillo v. Liberty Mutual, 330 U.S. 469, 67 S.Ct. 801, 91 L.Ed. 1028 (1947), it is not necessary for the purposes of the District of Columbia Act that the employee be injured or hired in the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia Code (1967 ed.) Title 36, Section 501, provides that:

'The provisions of chapter 18, title 33, U.S.Code, including all amendments that may hereafter be made thereto, shall apply in respect to the injury or death of an employee of an employer carrying on any employment in the District of Columbia, irrespective of the place where the injury or death occurs; except that in applying such provisions the term 'employer' shall be held to mean every person carrying on any employment in the District of Columbia and the term 'employee' shall be held to mean every employee of any person.' (Emphasis supplied.)

In essence, the District of Columbia applies its act to every employee regardless of the place of injury or the place of contract if the employer in question carries on 'any employment' in the District of Columbia. See 3 Larson's Workmen's Compensation Law, Section 87.13.

We now reach the central issue of this case: Did the remedy pursued by the appellant in filing a claim with the Workmen's Compensation Commission of Maryland (and his acceptance of an award thereunder) preclude him from availing himself of the more liberal benefits of the District of Columbia Act, on the ground that Maryland Code (1964 Repl.Vol.) Article 101, §§ 15 and 36 provide for an exclusive remedy, barring any and all other actions by the employee against the employer? 2

The appellant states in his brief that, 'Only one impediment exists to his claim having been pressed in the District of Columbia and which was the basic reason for the initiation of the declaratory judgment suit. It is the holding in Gasch v. Britton, 202 F.2d 356 (D.C.Cir. 1953) * * *.' A reading of Gasch makes it obvious why, absent a contrary ruling by a Maryland court, the appellant is presently barred from proceeding under the District's Act.

In Gasch, the widow and minor children of a District of Columbia workman killed while engaged on a job in Maryland, filed a claim with the Workmen's Compensation Commission of Maryland and were awarded benefits under the Maryland Act. Subsequently, they sought to file a claim in the District of Columbia to receive the more generous benefits of the District Act, subject to a credit for the amount of the Maryland award. The claim was based on the premise that the employment contract was entered into in the District and the Maryland award did not bar further recovery in the District. The federal court reached its result as to the exclusiveness of the Maryland Act, 3 first, by reconciling two United States Supreme Court decisions, Magnolia Petroleum Co. v. Hunt, 320 U.S. 430, 64 S.Ct. 208, 88 L.Ed. 149 (1943), and Industrial Commission of Wisconsin v. McCartin, 330 U.S. 622, 67 S.Ct. 886, 91 L.Ed. 1140 (1947) and second, by misinterpreting the opinion of this Court in Victory Sparkler & Specialty Co. v. Francks, 147 Md. 368, 128 A. 635 (1925). 4

We are not troubled by the analysis which Gasch makes of Magnolia and McCartin, to the effect that an award already obtained under the workmen's compensation act of one state would not bar a proceeding under another applicable state act (provided the amount paid by a prior award in the first state will be credibted on the second award), unless the act under which the award was first made was designed to preclude recovery of a further award under another state's law. See Restatement, Conflict of Laws, Section 403 (1948 Supp.), wherein Magnolia and McCartin are discussed and also Kacur v. Employers Mutual Casualty Co., 253 Md. 500, 504, 254 A.2d 156 (1969). This rationale is also in keeping with the treatment given dual awards in 3 Larson, Workmen's Compensation Law, Section 85.00, as well as Restatement, Conflict of Laws, Section 402 (1934). See also Hudson v. kingston Contracting Co., 58 N.J.Super. 455, 156 A.2d 491 (1959). We do, however, part company with Gasch in the interpretation which it placed on Victory Sparkler.

At the outset of our discussion of Gasch, we think it important to recall that in Victory Sparkler this Court was not presented with a case wherein a claimant was seeking to avail himself of the benefits available under the workmen's compensation acts of two jurisdictions, but rather, the case involved a situation where...

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