In a very important decision for workers injured in Montana, the Montana Supreme Court in the case Talbot v. Cudd, 2016 MT 247, reaffirmed the rights of injured workers to be made whole before workers compensation insurance companies can seek repayment of medical bills and lost wages it paid for. Anders Blewett of Hoyt and Blewett handled oral argument before the Montana Supreme Court.
Jason Talbot, a resident of Oklahoma, was working on an out-of-state assignment in Billings, Montana. While he was crossing the street on foot, a work truck ran through a red light striking him and causing him to suffer catastrophic injuries including a severe brain injury. Talbot, represented by Hoyt and Blewett, then filed suit against various entities and recovered the full limits of the available insurance, which amounted to $3.15 million. However, this recovery did not begin to cover the full amount of the damages Talbot had suffered.
Meanwhile, Talbot’s out-of-state workers compensation insurer paid more than $600,000 for his medical bills and lost wages. After making these payments, the out-of-state workers compensation insurer sought to recoup the amount it had paid from Talbot’s already reduced settlement. The insurer argued that even though the accident and injury occurred in Montana, Oklahoma law should apply which allows insurers to subrogate without regard to whether the injured worker has been made whole. Montana law is directly contrary to Oklahoma law and only allows insurers to subrogate if the injured worker is made whole.
The Montana Supreme Court ultimately rejected the workers compensation insurer’s argument and determined that Montana law should apply and that Montana’s made whole doctrine prevents insurers from subrogating against the recovery of an injured worker until the injured worker is made whole. The Montana Supreme Court once again reaffirmed the important constitutional rights of injured workers to be made whole before insurers can subrogate.
During the 2015 legislature, the Republican-controlled Montana legislature attempted to pass legislation that would destroy the made-whole rights of injured workers in Montana. Thankfully this bill was vetoed by Governor Steve Bullock. Had this bill become law, Talbot would have lost a substantial portion of his already limited personal injury settlement.