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Springer v. District of Columbia Dept. of Employment Services

December 30, 1999


Before Terry, Steadman, and Reid, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge

Petitions for Review of Decisions of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services

Argued December 11, 1998

These consolidated cases, unrelated on their facts but presenting the same legal issue, arise out of on-the-job injuries suffered by petitioners William Springer and Michael Strickland while working in the District of Columbia. At the time of their respective injuries, both petitioners lived outside the District and worked for companies located outside the District. Both received and accepted compensation for their injuries, which their employers paid voluntarily under the workers' compensation laws of Maryland and New Jersey, respectively. After receiving these payments, both petitioners filed workers' compensation claims with the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services ("DOES"). Hearing examiners denied petitioners' claims under D.C. Code § 36-303 (a-1) (1997), which prohibits an employee from receiving workers' compensation under the District of Columbia Workers' Compensation Act, D.C. Code §§ 36-301 et seq. (1997) ("WCA"), if the employee has "at any time" received compensation under the laws of any other state for the same injury. The Director of DOES affirmed the denials. On appeal, petitioners assert that the Director incorrectly construed D.C. Code § 36-303 (a-1) as not including a requirement that an employer notify an injured employee of his or her rights under the WCA before the preclusive effect of the statute is triggered. They argue that their claims were improperly denied because their employers did not notify them (1) that they were being paid under the laws of jurisdictions other than the District of Columbia, (2) that they potentially had rights to compensation under the WCA, and (3) that they would lose those rights if they accepted the voluntary payments. Because we conclude that the Director's interpretation of section 36-303 (a-1) is reasonable, we affirm.


A. Springer's Claim

At the time of his injury, petitioner Springer worked for Delta Installation Group (Delta), a Maryland company, as a modular furniture installer. On March 4, 1993, while traveling to a Delta work site with co-workers, Springer was injured when a car collided with a van in which he was a passenger. The accident occurred on Interstate Route 295 in the District of Columbia, near the Pennsylvania Avenue exit. Springer was taken to a hospital, where he was treated for his injuries and released. He returned to light-duty work the next day.

Four days after the accident, Delta filed a report of Springer's injuries with the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission ("MWCC"), as required by Maryland law. The report was forwarded to Montgomery Mutual Insurance Company, Delta's insurer, which accepted Springer's claim as compensable at the time the report was filed.

After nearly a month of light-duty work, Springer contacted Ted Linzey, a senior adjuster with Montgomery Mutual, to notify him that he could not continue working as a result of his injuries. Because Springer anticipated missing more than three days of work, Linzey instructed him that he would need to file a claim with the MWCC in order to receive workers' compensation benefits. Mr. Linzey sent Springer the requisite form, which Springer completed and returned. Linzey then filed the completed form with the MWCC on April 13, 1993.

The MWCC awarded Springer workers' compensation benefits and ordered Delta to pay Springer temporary total disability ("TTD") benefits at the rate of $280 per week, beginning on April 11, 1993. In accordance with the order, Montgomery Mutual paid Springer TTD benefits from April 11 to July 5, 1993. *fn1 Springer received and cashed the checks for the TTD benefits.

At the request of Montgomery Mutual, Dr. H.S. Palba conducted an independent medical examination of Springer in June 1993 and concluded that Springer did not have a permanent injury. Springer's treating physician, Dr. Edwin C. Fulton, disagreed. He told Springer that his injuries were permanent and that he had a five percent impairment of his body as a whole. On August 17 Linzey received a letter from Springer relating Dr. Fulton's assessment of the injury as permanent. In the letter, Springer stated, "I am at this time asking for compensation for my injury and that this be put on a permanent status." Springer delivered a copy of Dr. Fulton's report to Mr. Linzey.

On the basis of Dr. Fulton's report, Montgomery Mutual offered to pay Springer $2,355.00, i.e., $94.20 per week for twenty-five weeks, as compensation for a permanent injury. The offer was based on Maryland law, which provides for a disability rating of the whole body when an injury occurs to a non-scheduled body member, such as the neck or back. Md. Code Ann., Labor & Employment § 9-627 (k) (1991). Linzey explained to Springer that he would receive only one payment based on the permanent disability, but that it would not preclude his right to other medical payments and was not final. Linzey prepared the settlement papers and sent them to Springer with instructions to deliver them to the MWCC. Springer, however, never filed the settlement papers; instead, he wrote Linzey a letter requesting that he be reinstated on TTD.

On October 28, 1993, Springer filed a claim in the District of Columbia with DOES, seeking TTD benefits from July 6, 1993, to the present and continuing. Six months later he withdrew the claim he had filed with the MWCC. Following a hearing before a hearing examiner in June 1994, another hearing examiner *fn2 issued a compensation order on September 26, 1996, denying Springer's claim under the WCA. She concluded that, in light of D.C. Code ยง 36-303 (a-1), Springer was barred from receiving compensation under the WCA. The examiner specifically found that Springer had suffered a compensable, work-related injury and that Delta had "made voluntary payments of temporary total disability benefits to claimant from April 11, 1993, through July 5, 1993." She also found that Springer, through Linzey, had filed a claim with the MWCC and had been awarded TTD benefits and necessary ...

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