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Sutton v. Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co.

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

February 8, 2001

MARY SUTTON Petitioner,
v.
HARTFORD ACCIDENT & INDEMNITY COMPANY, Respondent/Insurer for PEOPLE'S MARKET, Employer.

          Submitted: February 7, 2001

          FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND JUDGMENT

          Mike McCarter, Judge.

         Case Summary: Claimant alleges she was injured in a fall at work. She testified that she immediately informed a coworker of the fall, then reported the injury to her supervisor the next day. Another coworker, who was not working at the time, supported claimant's testimony. However, the coworker on duty and the supervisor denied claimant reported the injury or that the she appeared injured.

         Held: No industrial accident occurred. Claimant and her supporting witness were not credible. The supporting witness plainly disliked the employer and was biased. The coworker who was working at the time of the purported accident, as well as the supervisor, were credible.

         Topics:

Witnesses: Credibility. Claimant and a coworker who supported claimant's story were not credible. The coworker was plainly biased against the employer and her and claimant's testimony was contradicted by that of a credible unbiased coworker and claimant's supervisor, who was also credible. Claimant's behavior in putting a note regarding the accident in a cash register till was "odd" and further undermined her credibility.
Witnesses: Credibility. External evidence of credibility should be considered by the fact-finder whenever possible. Mere observation of witnesses in the courtroom may not always lead to the correct conclusion regarding the witnesses' credibility.

         ¶1 This matter came on for trial in Missoula on January 19, 2001. Petitioner, Mary Sutton (claimant), was present with her attorney, Mr. Dustin L. Gahagan. Respondent, Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company (Hartford), was represented by Mr. William O. Bronson.

         ¶2 Exhibits: Exhibits 1 through 6 were admitted without objection.

         ¶3 Witnesses and Depositions: The parties agreed that the depositions of claimant, Lisa Anders, and Terry Bergren may be considered by the Court. Claimant, Terry Windstedt, Linda Ballinger, Lisa Anders, Bernice Bergren, Terry Bergren, and Linda Slavik testified at trial.

         ¶4 Issues Presented: As set forth in the final pretrial order, the following issues are presented:

a. Is Petitioner entitled to the acceptance of liability for her claim?
b. What is the amount of damages suffered by Petitioner at this time?
c. Is Petitioner entitled to recover her costs and attorney fees incurred in pursuing this action pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. Section 39-71-611?

(Final Pretrial Order at 1-2.)

         ¶5 Having considered the final 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

         ¶6 On September 9, 1998, the claimant began working for People's Market in Darby, Montana. She was employed as a cashier.

         ¶7 People's Market is a supermarket owned by Bergren, Incorporated, which is a small family corporation. Terry Bergren is one of the shareholders and is president of the company. His wife, Bernice ...


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