One of my favorite things about being a lawyer is the opportunity I have to help children have a brighter future as a result of my work. I take the responsibility of representing children very seriously. Here is a short story about how the right decisions for a child can create a very bright future and change the trajectory of a young person’s life, even in the face of disaster.
On February 15, 2018, Megan received the worst phone call you can possibly imagine. The father of her child, and primary breadwinner for her family, had been killed while on the way to his work site in Fergus County, Montana. Megan would now have to face the world without the support of H.S.’s father. Things seemed pretty grim.
Megan’s family rallied some support to help her pay some bills and get through the first month following the death of H.S.’s father. I had known Megan’s family for years and it was the efforts of Megan’s sisters to raise money for Megan that caught my attention. Amazingly, nobody even mentioned the possibility of filing a claim for worker’s compensation benefits.
H.S.’s father was killed while on the way to work, a project far away from his home. The company had provided housing and a vehicle to travel to and from the work site. For this reason, he was on the clock and working for the company at the time he was killed. Because H.S.’s father was in the course and scope of his employment at the time he was killed, H.S. and his ½ sister were now eligible to receive compensation under Montana’s Workers Compensation Act. However, the insurance carrier did not see it this way and wanted to keep H.S. and his sister from receiving benefits under Montana’s Workers Compensation Act.
The insurance carrier initially began making payments to Megan under a reservation of rights. Under this section of the Workers Compensation Act, an insurance carrier can begin making payments without accepting the claim. Nothing was certain and Megan did not know when this lifeline would dry up.
A number of months passed before a mediation occurred. It was not until this mediation that Megan would find out the insurance carrier would give in and agree to pay an appropriate sum of money. This is not the end of this story. How this situation is managed will have an enormous impact on how much good these funds will do for H.S. and his ½ sister.
Because Megan was not married when H.S. lost his father, it was H.S. and his ½ sister who were the sole beneficiaries of these funds. Because H.S. and his ½ sister were minors, these funds would need to be protected and Montana law limits how these resources can be used. In short, it was H.S.’s money and not Megan’s. The immediate needs of raising a child and the ability of H.S. to have a head start on his future would need to be balanced.
With the assistance of Nels Swandal, a Guardian Ad Litem appointed by the District Court, Megan decided to do the right thing. After carefully weighing the costs of raising H.S. and considering the possibility that putting funds away for his future may provide, Megan was able to put away over half of the funds available into an annuity. With the power of compound interest on his side, H.S. is now guaranteed funds that he can use early in his adult life. A truly life changing and trajectory changing opportunity was provided to this boy in the face of real tragedy.