Am I Entitled to Workers Compensation?

Am I Entitled to Workers Compensation?

A lawyer’s look at workers comp requirements in Montana

How does the worker’s comp system operate in Montana?

Montana worker’s comp system covers medical costs, wage loss, and other benefits without regard to fault. All businesses in Montana with employees are required by law to provide worker’s compensation insurance. The insurance covers injuries suffered by a worker if they meet workers comp eligibility requirements and can prove they were injured in the course and scope of their employment.

If your worker’s comp claim is denied, a worker’s compensation lawyer can help you obtain the benefits you deserve.  It is important to remember that generally employees are precluded from filing suit against their employers.  In exchange for giving up their right to file suit, workers are entitled to collect worker’s compensation benefits for their workplace injuries even if the injury was not caused due to the fault of the employer.  For this reason, workers comp is often referred to as a no-fault insurance coverage.

Worker’s Comp Eligibility Requirements in Montana

To qualify for worker’s comp in Montana you must meet the following three requirements.

  1. The employer must be required to provide workers compensation benefits
  2. You must be an employee.
  3. The injury or illness must be work-related.

Employers must be required to provide worker’s compensation benefits

In Montana, nearly all businesses with employees must have worker’s comp insurance. This is required by law. With jobs in oil fields, mining operations, and construction, where there is a particularly high risk of injury, work comp coverage is especially important. Montana has one of the highest incidents of workplace injuries, per capita.

You must be an employee

Only employees are eligible for worker’s compensation. An independent contractor is not entitled to pursue a worker’s compensation claim. If you have been injured while working as an independent contractor you should consult a Montana work comp lawyer because you may be entitled to assert a tort claim if your injury was caused due to the fault of another employee.  Some independent contractors may be improperly

Some independent contractors may be improperly classified and may be entitled to assert a worker’s compensation claim, even though they are referred to as independent contractors.  For example, if an employer provides the independent contract with tools and controls their work, the independent contractor may actually be an employee, not an independent contractor.

Can I bring a worker’s comp claim and a tort claim?

If your injury occurred at work and was caused due to the fault of a company, other than your own employer or co-employee, you may be entitled to assert a worker’s comp claim in addition to a third-party tort claim against the company that caused your injury.

Montana law generally does not permit you to bring a tort claim against your own employer unless your employer acted intentionally or if your employer failed to obtain workers compensation insurance.

If your employer fails to provide you with workers compensation, you can still file a worker’s compensation claim with the uninsured employer’s fund and file a tort claim against your own employer if their negligence caused your injury.  The threat of facing two claims for workplace injuries acts as a strong incentive for employers to follow the law and provide worker’s compensation coverage to their employees.

The Injury or illness must be work-related

Montana worker’s comp covers work-related injuries and illnesses. However, injuries and illnesses that occur outside of work or that were not caused by your workplace will not be covered.  You may need to consult a Montana workplace injury lawyer to help prove that your injury or illness is work-related.

Who provides workers compensation in Montana?

Worker’s compensation insurance can be provided through private insurance companies, through the Montana State Fund, a semi-public organization, or through an employer’s self-funded plan.

When are workers ineligible for worker’s comp?

There are certain scenarios where workers may be ineligible for workers compensation. Of course, if a worker does not meet the three eligibility requirements listed above, they may not qualify. However, there are other situations that can prevent ineligibility. For example, Federal employees are not covered by Montana’s work comp laws.  Instead, they are governed by federal law.

Railroad workers are one of the categories of employees are not covered by any workers compensation.  The Federal Employers Liability Act, also known as FELA, governs the remedies that are available to injured railroad workers.  While railroad workers are not entitled to assert work comp claims, they do have the right to bring tort claims and FELA has much lower burdens of proof than ordinary tort claims.   Unlike most tort claims, railroads are responsible for paying for the workplace injuries of their employees when they act in a slightly negligent manner.

The United States Supreme Court recently imposed restrictions on the ability of out-of-state injured railroad workers to file suit in Montana for their work related injuries.  Two railroad workers who were injured at work outside Montana attempted to file a FELA suit against their employer, BNSF Railway, in Montana state court. The U.S. Court overturned a Montana ruling that would have allowed them to pursue their case in Montana.

The US Supreme Court overturned the Montana Supreme Court based on the fact the injured workers were not working or injured in Montana and reasoned that there was no personal jurisdiction.  The Montana Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the injured workers because BNSF does business in Montana. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, found that the mere fact the railroad did business in Montana was not sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction for the out-of-state railroad worker’s FELA claim in Montana.

Privatization of the State Fund in Montana

Recently during the 2017 legislature, there were two separate attempts to eliminate or privatize the Montana State Fund.  The Montana State Fund is a nonprofit corporation that covers more than 26,000 businesses in Montana which and generates 60% of Montana’s work comp premiums.  State Fund is a provider of last resort which means that it is required to provide insurance to every employer that requests and is willing to pay for coverage.  The legislative efforts to privatize worker’s compensation ultimately failed,

State Fund is a provider of last resort which means that it is required to provide insurance to every employer that requests and is willing to pay for coverage.  The legislative efforts to privatize worker’s compensation ultimately failed, however, they triggered a vigorous debate regarding the management of the State Fund, the cost of worker’s compensation premiums and the importance of competition among Montana workers compensation insurers.  Unfortunately, the discussion failed to focus on the meager benefits that Montana’s workers compensation laws provide its workers.

Do you have a workers compensation claim?

If you have been injured at work, it is critical to consult with an attorney to assess your options and to determine what benefits you are entitled to under workers compensation and whether you may have third party tort claims in addition to your work comp claim.  Hoyt and Blewett has represented numerous injured workers and obtained a $3.98 million verdict for a workplace injury suffered by a logger.  Contact the workers comp lawyers at Hoyt & Blewett PLLC today for a free consultation.

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