Baltimore Co. not permitted to fire injured worker

May 27, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore County Circuit judge has ruled that the county may not fire an injured paramedic for being too disabled to work, then deny her a disability pension because her injuries aren't severe enough.

The seeming "Catch-22" has bedeviled former emergency medical technician Debra Reynolds, 33, since she was fired by the county Fire Department in December 1991.

"It's been three years of terrible financial and mental turmoil," Mrs. Reynolds said Tuesday. Now that the case might be nearing an end, she said, "I'm just grateful."

Since her firing, she twice has been before the county Board of Appeal, and twice to Circuit Court seeking an accidental-disability pension. She has yet to get it.

The Circuit Court decision by Judge Alfred A. Brennan Sr. last week reversed the Board of Appeals' last decision and appears to leave the board little choice but to grant Mrs. Reynolds the pension she is seeking.

"It is clear from the record that Ms. Reynolds suffered an accident in the actual performance of her duty, and that accident was not as a result of willful negligence on her part," Judge Brennan said.

He then ordered the board to reach a new decision "which is not inconsistent with this opinion."

"I think this is going to finally straighten it out," said Damon A. Trazzi, Mrs. Reynolds' attorney.

County Attorney Stanley J. Schapiro said this week he had not decided whether to appeal Judge Brennan's decision.

Board of Appeals Chairman William T. Hackett said he had not seen the ruling and wasn't sure how the board would proceed.

An accidental-disability pension, because it is tax-free, would provide Mrs. Reynolds roughly the equivalent of her take-home pay. The pension, worth two-thirds of her $446 weekly pay, is much higher than an ordinary disability pension, which yields less than half of full pay.

Mrs. Reynolds injured her right hand in May 1988 as she tried to grab an ambulance stretcher holding a county police prisoner after it broke loose in the back of a Fire Department ambulance at the White Marsh precinct station.

The injury led to two operations on her hand, the second after an unsuccessful attempt to return to work. After months of light duty, the Fire Department fired her in December 1991 because she was no longer able to work as a paramedic.

Mrs. Reynolds said she has little use of her right hand.

Her doctor said she was permanently disabled, but three county doctors said they couldn't find any cause for her complaints of intense pain and weakness in the hand.

The Board of Appeals used the county doctors' opinions to deny her the pension, but Judge Brennan said the county can't have it both ways.

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