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Maas v. Lumbermens Mutual Casualty

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

March 22, 1996

ARIAN MAAS Petitioner
v.
LUMBERMENS MUTUAL CASUALTY Respondent/Insurer for INTERSTATE BRANDS Employer.

          Submitted: March 11, 1996

          FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND JUDGMENT

          Mike McCarter Judge

         Summary: 41-year old bun wrap operator for large commercial bakery reported tripping and falling at work, striking her left shoulder, hip, jaw and head. Insurer denied occurrence of accident based on evidence claimant had stated, not long before the accident, that she was looking for way to go on disability, that coworkers had not observed accident or dirt on claimant's uniform, that she did not immediately report the incident to her supervisors, and that she did not mention the incident in a physical therapy session on the same day of the alleged accident.

         Held: WCC credited all witnesses, including claimant, and resolved testimony so as to conclude claimant was injured as claimed.

         Topics:

         Injury and Accident: Accident. Although insurer had good reasons for questioning occurrence of fall alleged by bakery worker, WCC credited testimony of claimant that fall occurred and found apparently conflicting evidence reconcilable with claimant's testimony.

         The trial in this matter was held in Billings, Montana, on Wednesday, November 15, 1995, and Tuesday, February 6, 1996. Petitioner, Marian Mass. (claimant), was present at all times and represented by Mr. Patrick R. Sheehy. Respondent, Lumbermens Mutual Casualty (Lumbermens), was represented by Mr. Michael P. Heringer.

         Exhibits: Exhibits 1, 2, and 5 through 19 were admitted. (There is no Exhibit 3.) Exhibit 4 was refused. Exhibit 20, which had been returned to Mr. Heringer at the close of the first trial, was admitted as amended at the second trial.

         Witnesses: Marian Maas, Sherry Reinhardt, Michelle Mattfeldt, Ben Auck, Don Nottingham, James Nelson, Scott Miller, Mitch Holmgren, Deborah Weisgarber, Steven Massey and Mark Amendola were all sworn and testified.

          Depositions: The depositions of Marian Maas, Dr. John Moseley, Mark Amendola, Sandra Ford, P.A., and Dr. William Bredehoft, Ph.D. were submitted for the Court's consideration.

         Issues presented: The claimant seeks a determination that she suffered a work-related injury on March 13, 1995, and that she is entitled to wage loss and medical benefits. She also seeks attorney fees and a penalty. If the Court finds the respondent is not liable for claimant's injury, the insurer seeks reimbursement for benefits paid under a reservation of rights.

         ***

         Having considered the Pretrial Order, the Addendum to Pretrial Order, the testimony presented at trial, the demeanor and credibility of the witnesses, the depositions and exhibits, and the arguments of the parties, the Court makes the following:

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         1. At the time of trial claimant was 41 years old. She is divorced and resides in Laurel, Montana, with two of her three children. Her third child is an adult.

         2. Claimant is a high school and college graduate. She has a bachelor of science degree in Business Administration Management from the University of Montana, which she earned in 1976.

         Interstate Brands

         3. Claimant has worked for Interstate Brands for the last 16 years. Interstate is a large commercial bakery with a production facility in Billings, Montana.

         4. During her tenure at Interstate, claimant has held a number of different positions. She worked initially in the company's thrift store. Thereafter, she worked in sanitation. Later she was hired to work in the production process, where she has worked ever since. In production she began as a relief worker but was later promoted to bun wrap operator, a position in which she has continued to work.

         5. Interstate makes a variety of bread products on a very large scale. The process is an assembly line version of bread making, one hardly recognizable to the home bread maker. Bread is baked on a massive scale. In the case of buns and bun-related products, the baking process is as follows:

a. Initially, a dough mixture is prepared from flour, water, yeast and other ingredients. Different breads and other bread products use different mixtures or formulas.
b. The resulting "sponge set" (dough with yeast already added) is then placed in a temperature controlled, fermenting room to rise for several hours.
c. After rising, the dough is removed from the fermentation room. Additional ingredients, as necessary, are added. It is then re-mixed or kneaded. In the case of dough which is to be made into buns, it is then put through a machine called a "panamat." The panamat cuts the dough into individual buns or bun-type products.
d. After leaving the panamat, the buns go through a "proofer" where they rise a second time.
e. The buns are then baked in an oven.
f. After baking, the buns are cooled and transferred via conveyor belt to the wrapping areas where they are sliced and packaged.

         6. The entire process takes several hours. The fermentation process, which begins with the mixing of the dough and involves steps a through d takes approximately three hours. It takes approximately another hour and a half to two hours to complete the process, including packaging.

         The Bun Wrap Lines

         7. Bun wrap operators package the buns and put the packages on pallets for transfer to the bakery warehouse for later delivery.

         8. Interstate makes numerous types of buns, including "coneys" (which are the hot dog buns every baseball fan knows and loves), steak rolls, hamburger buns, and bread sticks. Some are plain, others have sesame seeds, still others use cornmeal. Different types of buns require different ingredients. Thus, different dough "formulas" are used for different varieties of buns.

         9. Different buns are packaged differently. Thus, the bun wrap area of the bakery has three different bun wrapping lines: "Pillow Pack," "United," and "Formost." The three lines are used one at a time.

         10.Buns are delivered to the bun wrap area via a conveyor belt system. Upon reaching the bun wrap area, the buns are directed to the different lines by mechanical switches which determine the line to which the buns are delivered. When the type of buns change to a type requiring a different line, the bun wrap operators move the switches so that the conveyor delivers the new buns to the proper line. One product is wrapped at a time. Only one line is in operation at any time.

         11. The bun wrapping lines are physically located next to each other in the following order, located from left to right when looking at them from the end of the lines:

         Pillow Pack

         United

         Formost

         A diagram of the bun wrap area is attached to this decision as Appendix A.

         12.The bun wrap lines are staffed by three bun wrap operators. Bun wrap operators perform three functions.

a. First, they "index" the buns. Indexing involves examining the buns as they proceed down the conveyor, picking out and discarding the irregular buns and righting up-side down buns. The indexer's job is to make sure the buns enter the wrapping machines properly.
b. Second, they manage the actual operation of the bun wrapping machines. This task requires the operator to set up the machine for the various products, stock it with bags, and monitor the output.
c. Third, they "pallet" the buns. "Palleting" involves removing the packaged buns from the conveyor and stacking them on pallets. The palleter then moves full pallets to another conveyor which transports the pallets to the warehouse for shipping.

         13. The indexer is positioned at the beginning of the line, the machine operator at the middle, and the palleter at the very end.

         14. The three bun wrap operators work as a team and rotate their duties. The work requires the operators to work quickly and synchronously.

         Claimant's Coworkers

         15. For the last eight years the claimant has worked with Sherry Reinhardt and Michelle Mattfeldt. Working together, the three form one of the bun wrapping teams at the bakery. The ...


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