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Bennett v. State Compensation Insurance Fund

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

April 22, 1998

DARCEE BENNETT Petitioner
v.
STATE COMPENSATION INSURANCE FUND Respondent/Insurer for CATTIN'S FAMILY DINING Employer.

          Date Submitted: April 2, 1998

          FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND JUDGMENT

          MIKE MCCARTER JUDGE.

         Summary: Permanently totally disabled claimant sought conversion of her future PTD benefits to a lump sum. Claimant is 37 years old, married, and has a history, with her husband, of poor financial management. For instance, although with limited finances, claimant and her husband purchased two snowmobiles and entered into a contract for deed on a house, with a monthly payment over twice as large as their prior rent.

         Held: Request for lump sum of PTD benefits denied. Under section 39-71-741, MCA (1991), the conversion of PTD benefits to a lump sum on the basis of financial need "must be the exception," which the WCC interprets to incorporate the historical best-interests test applicable to lump-sums. See, Sullivan v. Aetna Life & Cas., 271 Mont. 12, 16, 894 P.2d 278, 280 (1995). Debt alone cannot be the basis for lump-summing where debt is pervasive in our society. Lump-summing is not in claimant's best interest be because her monthly PTD benefits are the only income she has in her own right; she has twenty-years before she reaches retirement age; she and her husband have proven themselves unable to wisely manage their finances; and they have other means to extricate themselves from their current monthly shortfall, selling their snowmobiles and the house purchased in Missoula.

         Topics:

Constitutions, Statutes, Regulations and Rules: Montana Code Annotated: section 39-71-741, MCA (1991). 37-year old claimant sought conversion of her future PTD benefits on the allegation of financial need. Under section 39-71-741, MCA (1991), the conversion of PTD benefits to a lump sum on the basis of financial need "must be the exception," which the WCC interprets to incorporate the historical best-interests test applicable to lump-sums. See, Sullivan v. Aetna Life & Cas., 271 Mont. 12, 16, 894 P.2d 278, 280 (1995). Lump-summing is not in claimant's best interest be because her monthly PTD benefits are the only income she has in her own right; she has twenty-years before she reaches retirement age; she and her husband have proven themselves unable to wisely manage their finances; and they have other means to extricate themselves from their current monthly shortfall.
Benefits: Lump Sums: Best Interests. 37-year old claimant sought conversion of her future PTD benefits on the allegation of financial need. Under section 39-71-741, MCA (1991), the conversion of PTD benefits to a lump sum on the basis of financial need "must be the exception," which the WCC interprets to incorporate the historical best-interests test applicable to lump-sums. See, Sullivan v. Aetna Life & Cas., 271 Mont. 12, 16, 894 P.2d 278, 280 (1995). Lump-summing is not in claimant's best interest be because her monthly PTD benefits are the only income she has in her own right; she has twenty-years before she reaches retirement age; she and her husband have proven themselves unable to wisely manage their finances; and they have other means to extricate themselves from their current monthly shortfall.

         ¶1 The trial in this matter was held on April 2, 1998, in Great Falls, Montana. Petitioner, Darcee Bennett (claimant), was present and represented by Mr. Richard J. Martin. Respondent, State Fund Compensation Fund (State Fund), was represented by Mr. Thomas E. Martello.

         ¶2 Exhibits: Exhibits 1 through 17 were admitted without objection.

         ¶3 Witnesses and Depositions: Claimant and her husband, Raymond J. Bennett, were sworn and testified at the trial. In addition, the parties agreed that the Court may consider the depositions of claimant and her husband.

         ¶4 Issues: Claimant requests that her future permanent total disability benefits be converted, in their entirety, to a lump sum.

         ¶5 Bench Ruling: At the conclusion of trial, the Court denied the lump-sum request. The following findings of fact and conclusions of law repeat and elaborate on the reasons for the Court's ruling.

         ¶6 Having considered the 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

         ¶7 Claimant is permanently totally disabled on account of an industrial injury she suffered on June 26, 1993, while working for Cattin's Family Dining (Cattin's).

         ¶8 At the time of her industrial injury, Cattin's was insured by the State Fund, which accepted liability. The State Fund agrees that claimant is permanently totally disabled and is currently paying claimant biweekly permanent total disability benefits.

         ¶9 Claimant's biweekly permanent total disability rate is $254.88, which is approximately $554.00 monthly.

         ¶10 Claimant is presently 37 years of age. Thus, it will be approximately 28 years until she reaches normal retirement age. She is not entitled to social security disability benefits since she failed to work enough quarters to qualify. Her sole income is from her workers' compensation benefits.

         ¶11 Claimant has been married to Raymond J. Bennett for 10 years. The ...


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