You never imagined you would be in this situation. You were injured at work and want answers. This book is a resource in an area of law few attorneys practice. I have practiced law for more than 20 years. I can say without hesitation that workers’ compensation law is the most misunderstood area in which I have worked. I hope you use our Comprehensive Guide to Workers Compensation Law in Montana as a reference source that helps you better understand where your claim is headed. It answers common questions I have been asked over the past 20 years. The different sections reflect the various statutes that apply to each question.
It is important to understand that workers’ compensation law in Montana is governed by statute and changes almost every legislative session. The law in place at the time a claimant is injured applies throughout his or her case. The law at the time our book was written will change, and it is important to find out if any changes impact your case. Please also understand that, as the law changes, it typically becomes less and less claimant-friendly. The Montana legislature regularly treats this program (and the workers who benefit from this program) like an inconvenience. Each session, new methods are dreamed up to cut benefits in an attempt to reduce workers’ compensation premiums. At this point, you do not need a lecture on how badly workers’ compensation has been gutted. If you have a free hour or two, I can go on and on about how rotten this system is and the shameful treatment injured workers receive from state legislators. But you need information that can help you right now.
The official statement of the purpose behind workers’ compensation in Montana is a reflection of the attitude of legislators toward the workers’ compensation system and can change. If you look back through the system’s evolution in Montana, you find a level of disdain, disrespect, and contempt that seems to grow worse each legislative session. What does this mean to you as a claimant?
First, you will be treated as an opportunist and a criminal. If you are off work for more than one year, regardless of the severity of your injuries, you will be followed by a private investigator. You will be blamed for your injuries. Multiple jury research programs I conducted show that members of your community blame you for your injuries. When asked if it is appropriate for the State Fund to follow a claimant without good reason, the resounding attitude amongst community members interviewed was that all claimants should be followed. There is an overriding attitude throughout the workers’ compensation system that a significant number of claims (one in four according to training materials at the Montana State Fund) are fraudulent.
Second, many employers and co-workers will treat you as an outcast. For many of the same misunderstandings applied to claimants above, people who were your friends before you were injured may be less willing to speak with you afterward. Your employer is often scared that his or her workers’ compensation insurance premiums will skyrocket. The Montana State Fund and other insurance carriers do not calm these anxieties. They tend to fan the flame.
Finally, at some point, the insurance carrier may attempt to cut off benefits for no good reason. The insurance carrier will try to show that you did not report the injury or you made up the injury. Or, the insurance carrier may hire an “independent” medical examiner (a physician, if you want to call him or her that) whose opinion is bought and paid for by the insurer. For this reason, it is critical that you attend every single appointment, stay organized, and completely understand the benefits you have a right to receive.