Simmons v. Comfort Suites, 185 Md. App. 203

Important Points:

A 67 year old Maryland woman requested installation of a home security system as part of her compensable medical treatment for injuries sustained from a violent attempted robbery at her place of employment, Comfort Suites Hotel.  The robber beat her with a baseball bat and left her for dead.  During her recovery, the woman experienced fear and anxiety about a possible subsequent break-in at her home, and suffered insomnia as a result.  Her doctor recommended the home security system be installed to ease her fears.

She had gotten workers’ compensation benefits for her work in the hotel.  She worked the desk.  The question was she could get a home modification in the form of a security system as part of the comp benefits.

Comfort Suites refused to provide the security system because it argued that the security system was not “medical treatment” under the relevant statute – Md. Code Ann., Labor and Employment § 9-660.  Comfort Suites said a home modification, such as an access ramp or security system, is generally a medical treatment only if it provides “access for necessities” in the way that a medical ramp provides a paraplegic access to their home.  The Maryland Worker’s Compensation Commissioner disagreed with Comfort Suites, and said the security system would be even more beneficial than an access ramp because, unlike the ramp, the security system would improve (rather than just accommodate) the woman’s condition by easing her fear of a break-in and helping her sleep.

The Commissioner granted the woman’s request for a home security system. The woman’s employer, Comfort Suites, appealed the Commissioner’s decision.  The Circuit Court heard the employer’s appeal and decided that a home security system was not a compensable medical treatment because it did not provide “access for necessities” under section 9-660 of the statute.

The woman appealed this decision to the Court of Special Appeals.  The Court of Special Appeals interpreted section 9-660 of the statute to cover “medical services necessary or desirable to treat the effects of the injury.”  The Court of Special Appeals also noted that the Court of Appeals has found an item may be compensable medical treatment if it provides a medical benefit, even if it is not intrinsically medical in nature.

Therefore, the Court of Special Appeals said that the home security system could be medically compensable treatment covered by section 9-660 of the statute because the woman suffered a mental disability, the security system served a medical purpose in this case, and the security system was recommended by her doctor for treating her mental disability, anxiety, and insomnia.

However, the Court of Special Appeals said a trier of fact (a jury or judge) would have to evaluate claims like the woman’s on a case by case basis to determine whether the home modification or other traditionally non-medical treatment was a compensable medical treatment under the statute section 9-660.  The Court of Special Appeals also noted that the woman’s appeal was a very unique set of circumstances.

It is certainly possible this case will be used in the furtherance of other PTSD type comp cases.

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