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Henry v. State Compensation Insurance Fund

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

May 13, 1998

JERRY HENRY Petitioner
v.
STATE COMPENSATION INSURANCE FUND Respondent/Insurer for APPLIANCE CARE, INCORPORATED Employer.,

          Date Submitted: February 2, 1998

          DECISION AND ORDER

          MIKE McCARTER, JUDGE

         Summary: Insurer accepted liability for claimant's herniated disk as an occupational disease. The parties settled the claim under section 39-71-405, MCA, but claimant reserved the right to challenge the insurer's denial of rehabilitation benefits to claimant. The insurer contends rehabilitation benefits are not available under the Occupational Disease Act. Claimant does not disagree, but challenges the constitutionality of the ODA's failure to provide such benefits under the equal protection clause of the Montana and United States Constitutions.

         Held: In Eastman v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 237 Mont. 332, 777 P.2d 882 (1989) the Montana Supreme Court has already determined that the different treatment of workers suffering from occupational disease from those suffering from injury does not violate equal protection guarantees. Where Eastman has neither been expressly nor impliedly overruled, it is controlling at the trial court level. [Note: the WCC was overruled in this conclusion in Henry v. State Fund, 1999 MT 126 (98-351).]

         Topics:

Benefits: Rehabilitation Benefits. The failure of the Occupational Disease Act to provide rehabilitation benefits to occupationally diseased workers does not violate the equal protection clause of the Montana or United States Constitutions. [Note: the WCC was overruled in this conclusion in Henry v. State Fund, 1999 MT 126.]

Constitutional Law: Equal Protection. The failure of the Occupational Disease Act to provide rehabilitation benefits to occupationally diseased workers does not violate the equal protection clause of the Montana or United States Constitutions. [Note: the WCC was overruled in this conclusion in Henry v. State Fund, 1999 MT 126.]

Occupational Disease: Rehabilitation Benefits. The failure of the Occupational Disease Act to provide rehabilitation benefits to occupationally diseased workers does not violate the equal protection clause of the Montana or United States Constitutions. [Note: the WCC was overruled in this conclusion in Henry v. State Fund, 1999 MT 126.]

         ¶1 The petitioner in this action, Jerry Henry (Henry), suffered a herniated disk in his back on April 1, 1995, when he was moving and lifting appliances for his employer, Appliance Care, Incorporated. At the time of this incident, Appliance Care's workers' compensation insurance carrier was the State Compensation Insurance Fund (State Fund).

         ¶2 Petitioner made a claim for his herniated disk. The State Fund accepted liability for the claim as an occupational disease. Ultimately the parties settled the claim under 39-72-405, MCA, but petitioner reserved the right to challenge the State Fund's denial of his request for rehabilitation benefits. The State Fund contends that rehabilitation benefits are not available under the Occupational Disease Act (ODA). Petitioner does not disagree, rather he contends that the ODA's failure to provide such benefits violates his right to equal protection of the laws.

         FACTS

         ¶3 The parties have submitted this case for decision on an agreed statement of facts. The stipulated facts are as follows:

1. On April 1, 1995, the Petitioner was injured while employed with Appliance Care, Inc., in Lake County, Montana. The Petitioner suffered a herniated disc in his back, when he was moving and lifting appliances. The Petitioner injured his back, herniating his disc, but the symptoms did not manifest themselves until weeks later. The claim was treated and accepted as an occupational disease.
2. The State Fund accepted liability for the claim as an occupational disease and medical and compensation benefits were paid. Mr. Henry reached maximum medical improvement and the parties settled ...

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