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The widow of a retired volunteer firefighter who died of a heart attack brought on by heart disease and hypertension is eligible for workers compensation death benefits even though her husband had settled his occupational illness claim before his death, an appeals court in Maryland ruled Friday.
Longtime firefighter Bernard Collins, who died at 72, settled his occupational illness claim against the Huntingtown Volunteer Fire Department in Maryland and its two insurers in 2015 for lump sums of $100,000 and $50,000, plus a Medicare set-aside for future prescriptions of $47,192, according to documents titled In the Matter of Bernard Collins, filed in the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland in Annapolis.
Following his death in 2017, his widow, Peggy Collins, filed an unsuccessful claim with the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission against the fire department and its insurers for death benefits, alleging that his death resulted from his occupational disease. Following the commission’s ruling that her claim “was barred by the release of claims Mr. Collins had given in settling his own claim,” she petitioned the Circuit Court for Calvert County, Maryland, for judicial review of that decision. The circuit court ruled in favor of Huntingtown and the insurers, according to documents.
On further appeal, a state appeals judge reversed and remanded the issue back to the commission, writing that “(n)otably missing from the language of the Release” Mr. Collins had signed in his settlement “is any mention of death resulting from Mr. Collins’s covered injury or any future claim for death benefits under the Act.”
“Although Mr. Collins purports to release future claims that could ‘arise’ from his occupational disease … a claim for death benefits accrues and arises from a covered worker’s death from the disease (or injury), not from the disease (or injury) itself,” the judge wrote in Friday’s decision. “Given Mr. Collins’s age and medical condition, the possibility that he would die from the heart disease and hypertension he was presumed to have contracted from his work as a firefighter would have been evident to the parties to his workers’ compensation case. The failure to specify that claims accruing if Mr. Collins were to die because of his compensable occupational disease were being released by him on behalf of his dependents evinces that the parties did not intend the Release to extend to those claims.”
The fire department and its insurers could not immediately be reached for comment. Attorneys were not listed in legal documents.
The Supreme Court of Connecticut on Tuesday ruled that a shipbuilder cannot litigate a claim filed by the widow of a shipyard worker who died of lung cancer following asbestos exposure because a federal judge already ruled the man’s injury was compensable under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.