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Rasmussen v. State Compensation Insurance Fund

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

July 28, 1994

CHARLES RASMUSSEN Petitioner
v.
STATE COMPENSATION INSURANCE FUND Respondent/Insurer for HEEBS FOOD CENTER Employer.

         Reversed by Supreme Court Opinion No. 94-423.

          ORDER GRANTING NEW TRIAL

          Mike McCarter, Judge.

         The matter presently before the Court is the State Compensation Insurance Fund's (State Fund) motion for a new trial. Having considered the motion, along with the briefs of both parties, I conclude that the motion should be granted.

         This case was tried in Missoula, Montana, on September 20 and 21, 1993. On May 18, 1994, I issued my Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment, [1] finding claimant permanently totally disabled on account of his low-back condition. The State Fund had argued that claimant's condition is due to numerous falls he suffered during various sports activities, especially ski jumping. In view of medical opinions causally relating claimant's condition to an industrial accident, I did not find the State Fund's arguments in this regard persuasive. However, the occurrence of the accident was an essential foundation for the medical opinions upon which the Court relied. If the accident did not occur, then the medical opinions were worthless.

         At trial the State Fund presented evidence which, if believed, tended to show that an industrial accident in fact did not occur. The State Fund argued that this evidence undermined claimant's credibility and demonstrated that his low-back condition is unrelated to any industrial accident. While the State Fund couched its contentions in terms of credibility and relatedness, I concluded, and reaffirm here, that the essence of its defense was fraud. Since fraud was not listed as an issue or defense in the pretrial order, I "disregarded all evidence offered to prove fraud" and accepted claimant's account of the industrial accident.

         Motions for new trials are governed by ARM 24.5.344. That rule provides inter alia that any party "may petition for a new trial or request amendment to the court's findings of fact and conclusions of law within 20 days after the order or judgment is served."

         As an initial matter the claimant argues that the State Fund's motion is untimely since it was mailed rather than filed on the 20th day. That argument, however, overlooks ARM 24.5.303 (5), which provides:

Unless the court specifically orders otherwise, filing with the court may be accomplished by mail addressed to the clerk, and such filing will be deemed complete on the date shown on the certificate of mailing.

         Under this rule the date of mailing is also deemed the date of filing. The motion was timely filed. Therefore, the Court will consider the merits of the motion.

         The grounds for granting a new trial are enumerated in section 25-11-102, MCA. In cases tried to a court without a jury there are three grounds for granting a new trial. Section 25-11-103, MCA. Those grounds, as set forth in section 25-11-102, MCA, are:

(1) irregularity in the proceedings of the court, jury, or adverse party or any order of the court or abuse of discretion by which either party was prevented from having a fair trial;
(3) accident or surprise which ordinary prudence could not have guarded against;
(4) newly discovered evidence material for the party making the application which he could not, with reasonable diligence, have discovered and produced at the trial;

         In addition to demonstrating the existence of at least one of these grounds, the moving party must also show that his or her rights were materially affected. Id.

         In the present case only the first two grounds are implicated by the State Fund's motion. In its motion the State Fund contends that the Court improperly ignored its evidence concerning the occurrence of the accident. It argues that claimant did not object to much of the evidence and that the Court's ...


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