On May 26, 2020, the Court of Appeals of Maryland held, In the Matter of Collins, that pursuant to Maryland statute 9-722—which governs the settlement of workers compensation claims—a workers compensation claimant lacks the power to release any dependent’s future claim for death benefits. The court also ruled that, in order for the release to be enforceable against a dependent, the dependent must be a party to the settlement agreement.
In this case, the widow of a deceased firefighter brought a claim for death benefits against the firefighter’s employer and workers compensation insurer (E/C). Prior to his death, the firefighter entered into a settlement agreement with the E/C for workers compensation benefits related to the development of heart disease, that also included a release from any claims the firefighter’s dependents might have against the E/C.
In its decision, the court reasoned that a dependent’s claim for death benefits, although based on an employee’s compensable injury or disease, is independent of the employee’s claim for benefits and the employee lacks the power to unilaterally release such death benefit claim. Accordingly, the firefighter’s settlement of his claims did not extinguish his widow’s claim for death benefits.
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