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County not due comp funds in med mal suit

medical malpractice

Self-insured Baltimore County is not entitled to medical reimbursements stemming from a workers compensation claimant who won a medical malpractice lawsuit after treatment for his work-related injury, a Maryland appeals court ruled Thursday.

In 2011 Charles Ulrich suffered an accidental injury to his left elbow while lifting a heavy trash can as a maintenance specialist for the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks. He sought treatment at a medical facility, which misdiagnosed him with a strain and permitted him to return to work with lifting restrictions.

Mr. Ulrich continued to suffer pain and sought additional care five weeks after the injury, which is when a hand specialist diagnosed him with a complete tear of his bicep tendon, according to documents in Baltimore County, Maryland, v. Charles Ulrich, filed in the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland in Annapolis. 

Following a successful filing of a comp claim, a process and treatment that resulted in his disability and retirement, Mr. Ulrich filed a malpractice suit against the first provider with a “certifying expert” saying that the first treatment facility’s “employees had breached the standard of care when they failed to diagnose the ruptured tendon.” According to the expert, “Mr. Ulrich suffered permanent damage to the strength and functioning of his left arm because of the misdiagnosis.”

Mr. Ulrich settled the suit confidentially, and Baltimore County subsequently “demanded” to recover $17,152.42 in what it paid for his medical care, documents state. 

Both the Workers' Compensation Commission and the Circuit Court for Baltimore County determined that the county was not entitled to reimbursement for those medical expenses. The “rationale for both decisions was that the medical expenses resulted solely from the work-related injury; the medical expenses would have been incurred even if no malpractice had occurred; and, thus, the malpractice defendants had no liability to pay those medical expenses,” court documents state.

The appeals court affirmed, stating the county “failed to establish any error” in the lower court’s interpretation of state law, according to documents.