By Anders Blewett
Historically, Montana has been known as a state with a very high rate of injuries in the workplace. In 2010, Montana had the most expensive workers compensation premium rates in the country. These expensive rates were the result of high rates of claims resulting from workplace injuries. At the behest of employers and their lobbyists, the legislature has implemented numerous reforms to the workers compensation system which have repeatedly reduced benefits to workers. These massive reductions to the benefits paid out by the Montana workers compensation system have in effect slightly reduced the premium rates that employers pay for workers compensation insurance. Due to legislation implemented in 2011, employers have experienced a 22 percent rate decrease that moved Montana’s workers compensation rate ranking from the most expensive state, to the 8th most expensive state. Montana’s largest workers compensation insurance company, Montana State Fund, reduced their rates by 6 percent on July 1st, 2013. However these minimal reductions in premiums for employers have come at a serious cost for employees. These reforms have done little, if anything, to improve safety in the workplace and incidents of injuries. According to the Montana Department of Labor, the instances of workers compensation claims fell only 4 percent from the previous year. As a result, injured workers have seen their benefits slashed without addressing the fundamental issue of why so many injuries occur in the workplace in Montana.
Oftentimes Workers Compensation Isn’t Enough
Despite the recent reforms to Montana’s workers compensation, there is still a high frequency of injuries in the workplace. The workers compensation systems fails to provide injured workers in Montana the benefits they deserve. The system only provides workers a fraction of their salary and hence, when workers suffer injuries, often times catastrophic ones that permanently prevent them from working, they struggle to make ends meet. In one example of a workers compensation claim, a Montana man who worked doing hard labor for 25 years was injured badly and needed to file a claim. The man had a very difficult time providing for his family with his workers compensation. His doctor deemed him unfit to work and workers compensation gave him only $596 a week, down from $1,153 he earned while working. In another example of a Montana workplace injury, a man was surprised to see that his social security benefits were reduced by 80 percent. The man lamented his failure to consult a workers compensation lawyer and was only receiving $200 monthly, which was not enough to live off. He had difficulty interpreting the workers compensation settlement agreement and was unfortunately, bound by its terms.
How Can a Montana worker obtain fair compensation when injured on the job?
Because of the meager benefits paid out by workers compensation, it is critical that employees evaluate whether they were injured by someone other than their employer. The Montana workers compensation scheme prevents employees from suing their employers, regardless of how negligent their employer may be. However, workers are entitled to bring claims against third parties, such as independent contractors or other companies that they may be working with, if that third party caused the accident. For example, Montana oil rig workers who work in the Baaken Oil fields, often work with independent contractors and employees from other oil companies. If an oil rig worker of one company is injured and another oil company was responsible for ensuring the safety of the workplace, the oil rig worker may have a negligence claim against the other company, in addition to a workers compensation claim. A Montana workplace injury lawyer can help you navigate the complicated process of evaluating whether you have a claim so that you can obtain the best possible compensation. The workplace injury lawyers at Hoyt & Blewett PLLC have a proven record of success involving injured workers’ cases. To protect your family or loved ones contact the workplace injury lawyers at Hoyt & Blewett PLLC and receive the compensation you deserve.