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Pittsley v. State Compensation Insurance Fund

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

November 19, 1998

WILLIAM R. PITTSLEY Petitioner
v.
STATE COMPENSATION INSURANCE FUND Respondent/Insurer for 3-MOR ENTERPRISES Employer.,

          Submitted: October 13, 1998

          ORDER DENYING PENALTY AND ATTORNEY FEES

          McCARTER JUDGE.

         Summary: Following grant of partial summary judgment, parties presented issue of penalty and attorneys' fees on stipulated facts. Since resolution of the case turned on a legal issue, the question is whether the legal position taken by the insurer was unreasonable.

         Held: The insurer's position was not unreasonable, particularly where important legal precedent supporting the WCC decision was not cited by claimant, but rather found by the Court. It is difficult to find an insurer's legal position unreasonable when a claimant's attorney does not cite legal precedent to support his or her position. Attorneys fees and penalty denied.

         Topics:

Constitutions, Statutes, Regulations and Rules: Montana Code Annotated: section 39-71-612, MCA (1991). Where a claimant seeks penalty and attorneys fees following a grant of summary judgment turning interpretation of statutes, regulations, and case law, the question is whether the legal position taken by the insurer was unreasonable. In this case, important legal precedent was found by the Court's own research. It is difficult to find an insurer's legal position unreasonable when a claimant's attorney does not cite legal precedent to support his or her position. Attorneys fees and penalty denied.
Constitutions, Statutes, Regulations and Rules: Montana Code Annotated: section 39-71-2907, MCA (1991). Where a claimant seeks penalty and attorneys fees following a grant of summary judgment turning interpretation of statutes, regulations, and case law, the question is whether the legal position taken by the insurer was unreasonable. In this case, important legal precedent was found by the Court's own research. It is difficult to find an insurer's legal position unreasonable when a claimant's attorney does not cite legal precedent to support his or her position. Attorneys fees and penalty denied.
Attorney Fees: Cases Denied. Where a claimant seeks penalty and attorneys fees following a grant of summary judgment turning interpretation of statutes, regulations, and case law, the question is whether the legal position taken by the insurer was unreasonable. In this case, important legal precedent was found by the Court's own research. It is difficult to find an insurer's legal position unreasonable when a claimant's attorney does not cite legal precedent to support his or her position. Attorneys fees and penalty denied.
Attorneys Fees: Unreasonable Denial or Delay of Payment. Where a claimant seeks penalty and attorneys fees following a grant of summary judgment turning interpretation of statutes, regulations, and case law, the question is whether the legal position taken by the insurer was unreasonable. In this case, important legal precedent was found by the Court's own research. It is difficult to find an insurer's legal position unreasonable when a claimant's attorney does not cite legal precedent to support his or her position. Attorneys fees and penalty denied.
Penalties: Insurers. Where a claimant seeks penalty and attorneys fees following a grant of summary judgment turning interpretation of statutes, regulations, and case law, the question is whether the legal position taken by the insurer was unreasonable. In this case, important legal precedent was found by the Court's own research. It is difficult to find an insurer's legal position unreasonable when a claimant's attorney does not cite legal precedent to support his or her position. Attorneys fees and penalty denied.

         ¶1 On July 31, 1998, this Court entered partial summary judgment holding that saw rental paid to the claimant by his employer must be included in computing claimant's compensation benefits. The Court reserved for trial the claimant's request for attorney fees and a penalty. Thereafter, the parties requested the Court to decide the attorney fees and penalty issues based upon a stipulation of facts. The stipulation was filed October 7, 1998. The briefing was completed on October 13, 1998.

         Factual Background

         ¶2 Claimant, a logger, was injured on December 13, 1991. (Stipulated Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (October 7, 1998), Fact 1.) Based on the total amount paid him by his employer, claimant was entitled to benefits of $336 per week, less any social security offset. (Partial Summary Judgment (July 31, 1998) at 7.) However, his gross earnings were allocated 75% for wages and 25% for saw rental. (Id. at 5.)

         ¶3 In a 1989 decision, this Court determined that saw rental of a sawyer (logger) are wages for purposes of determining benefits. Bobby Guckenberg v. State Compensation Ins. Fund, WCC No. 8808-4883, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and Judgment (June 20, 1989). The case ...


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