Workers’ Compensation Alert: Maine Supreme Court Rules on Maximum Benefits Payable in the Context of More Than One Injury

In Freeman v. NewPage Corporation, 2016 ME 45 (March 31, 2016) the Law Court affirmed an ALJ’s decision that an employee could not be awarded benefits over the maximum compensation rate even if the employee has suffered more than one work injury.

The Maine Workers’ Compensation Act’s maximum benefit provision states:

§ 211. Maximum benefit levels

Effective January 1, 1993, the maximum weekly benefit payable under section 212, 213 or 215 is $441 or 90% of state average weekly wage, whichever is higher. Beginning on July 1, 1994, the maximum benefit level is the higher of $441 or 90% of the state average weekly wage as adjusted annually utilizing the state average weekly wage as determined by the Department of Labor.

39-A M.R.S. § 211. Sections 212, 213, and 215 set forth methods for calculating various forms of benefits; each specifies that, in any event, the employer shall pay the injured employee “not more than the maximum benefit under section 211.” 39-A M.R.S. §§ 212(1), 213(1), 215(1).

In Freeman, an employee was injured at work in 2007. She returned to work but earned less money, in a different position. She received partial incapacity benefits on account of the decrease in wages. She suffered a second injury at work in 2011 which caused her to be unable to work. During a period of incapacity following the 2011 injury, Newpage paid 100% partial incapacity benefits based on the 2007 injury. Freeman filed a petition for award of compensation claiming that although she was already receiving benefits that equaled the maximum compensation rate as a result of her 2007 injury, she was eligible for additional compensation for the same period as a result of her 2011 injury. The Administrative Law Judge found the employee was ineligible for compensation beyond the statutory maximum benefit, regardless of the number of injuries. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Law Court affirmed, finding that the benefit calculation for each section is still subject to the “maximum benefit” in section 211, which does not provide for any exceptions to its “maximum” benefit, even in the context of more than one injury. Freeman makes clear that the statutory maximum benefit provision of the Act is a total ceiling on the potential benefits available to an injured employee, regardless of the number of injuries the employee suffers.