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Manweiler v. The Travelers Insurance Co.

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

June 6, 1996

NEVA MANWEILER, CHAD MANWEILER & NATHAN MANWEILER, Petitioners
v.
THE TRAVELERS INSURANCE COMPANY Respondent/Insurer for PLUM CREEK TIMBER COMPANY, INCORPORATED Employer.

          Submitted: March 21, 1996

          ORDER GRANTING PETITIONERS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING RESPONDENT'S SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTION

          MIKE McCARTER JUDGE.

         Summary: An occupational disease claimant entered into a settlement agreement with the insurer. After the worker died as the result of his occupational disease, this case was filed for death benefits. The insurer contended the claim for death benefits is barred by the settlement. A motion and cross-motion for summary judgment were before the Court.

         Held: Under the 1985 laws, a claim for death benefits is separate from an occupational disease claimant's own claim for benefits. In particular, section 39-72-403(1), MCA (1985), makes clear that claims for death benefits may, and must, be presented after a decedent's death, providing a separate and distinct claim by death benefit beneficiaries. If any amount of monies already paid as the result of the occupational disease are attributable to periods of time after decedent's death, the insurer would be entitled to a credit for such monies pursuant to section 39-72-711, MCA (1985).

         Topics:

Constitutions, Statutes, Regulations and Rules: section 39-72-403(1), MCA (1985). Under the 1985 laws, a claim for death benefits is separate from an occupational disease claimant's own claim for benefits. In particular, section 39-72-403(1), MCA (1985), makes clear that claims for death benefits may, and must, be presented after a decedent's death, providing a separate and distinct claim by death benefit beneficiaries. If any amount of monies already paid as the result of the occupational disease are attributable to periods of time after decedent's death, the insurer would be entitled to a credit for such monies pursuant to section 39-72-711, MCA (1985).
Benefits: Death Benefits: Generally. Under the 1985 laws, a claim for death benefits is separate from an occupational disease claimant's own claim for benefits. In particular, section 39-72-403(1), MCA (1985), makes clear that claims for death benefits may, and must, be presented after a decedent's death, providing a separate and distinct claim by death benefit beneficiaries.
Benefits: Death Benefits: Offset for Prior Settlement. Under the 1985 laws, a claim for death benefits is separate from an occupational disease claimant's own claim for benefits. If any amount of monies already paid as the result of the occupational disease are attributable to periods of time after decedent's death, the insurer would be entitled to a credit for such monies pursuant to section 39-72-711, MCA (1985).

         This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. While certain facts are brought to the Court's attention, the issue raised in this case involves a matter of law, to wit: whether a settlement and release agreement executed between an injured worker and the insurer in an occupational disease case bars an action by the worker's beneficiaries for death benefits when the worker later dies on account of his occupational disease.

         The salient facts are set forth in admitted paragraphs of the petition and in the Affidavit of Bradley J. Luck filed on behalf of respondent. Attached to the Luck affidavit are numerous exhibits which reflect the history of the case. Petitioners do not challenge the exhibits and they are cited for the specific facts set forth in this decision.

         Factual Background

         The decedent, Harold Manweiler, worked for Plum Creek Timber Company, which at the times relevant to this action was insured by Travelers Insurance Company. (See Pleadings and Briefs.) During his employment he was exposed to carbide and cobalt dust from carbide tipped grinding blades. (Ex. 1.) He developed Churg-Strauss syndrome.[1]

         On or about November 13, 1986, decedent filed a workers' compensation claim based on his Churg-Strauss syndrome. (Ex. 1.) He listed an "injury" date of August 16, 1985, and attributed his condition to workplace exposure to carbide dust. (Id.) Travelers denied the claim under the Workers' Compensation Act but later accepted it as an occupational disease. (Petition ¶¶ 2-3; Response ¶ 1.)

         In the meantime, the decedent and his wife had commenced a third-party action against the manufacturer of the carbide saw tips. (Ex. 3.) Travelers declined to fully participate in that action but asserted a 50% subrogation interest in it. (Exs. 9, 11.)

         In 1988 the decedent and Travelers entered into settlement negotiations. (Exs. 15-17.) Those negotiations resulted in a settlement for the sum of $30, 000. The agreement (Ex. 28), which was approved by the Department of Labor and Industry (Ex. 30), released Travelers from further liability, other than for medical benefits, under both the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) and the Occupational Disease Act (ODA). Travelers, in turn, waived "any existing or future subrogation interest" in the third-party action which claimant had previously filed.

         The specific language releasing the insurer from further liability provides in relevant part:

The claimant, in signing and submitting this petition to the Division of Workers' Compensation, further understands that if this petition is approved, the above-named employer and insurer are forever released from payment of disability compensation benefits under either the Workers' Compensation Act or the Occupational Disease Act for injuries or diseases claimed to have been suffered as indicated above.
If the petition is approved, the claim will be forever closed and can never again be reopened.

(Ex. 28.) The Department order approving the settlement contains similar but not identical language. It refers to the WCA but omits any mention of the Occupational Disease Act:

These negotiations have resulted in a proposed full and final compromise settlement of the claim wherein the claimant is to receive as a settlement THIRTY THOUSAND DOLLARS AND NO CENTS ($30, 000.00) [in a lump sum] in addition to all compensation benefits previously paid. Further medical and hospital benefits have been reserved by the claimant.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the insurer pay to the claimant the amount of compensation specified above, in addition to any sums that may have been previously paid, in a full and final compromise settlement of the claimant's claim. Future medical and hospital benefits have been reserved by the claimant.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the claimant shall accept the above amount as a full and final compromise settlement and that, subject only to the authority of the Workers' Compensation Judge to disapprove this order within ten (10) days of the Judge's receipt of this order, the insurer is fully released and discharged from all further obligations for compensation benefits for this injury under the Workers' Compensation Act.

(Ex. 30.) The Department order approving the settlement was dated December 2, 1988. (Id.) A "RETURNED" stamp indicates that the petition was then submitted to this Court for review and returned by it to the ...


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