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Mack v. Montana State Fund

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

August 12, 2005

GERALD MACK Petitioner
v.
MONTANA STATE FUND Respondent/Insurer.

          Submitted: June 2, 2005

          FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND JUDGMENT

          MIKE MCCARTER, JUDGE

         Summary: Over a period of approximately seven years (1991-1998) while working on a farm and ranch, the claimant experienced sneezing, a stuffy nose, runny eyes, chest tightness, and a cough whenever exposed to grain dust and hay. His symptoms were relieved by over-the-counter medications and therefore temporary. He sought no medical care at the time. However, over the years he experienced increasing shortness of breath and in 2004 he was hospitalized with pulmonary hypertension and obstructive lung disease. He then submitted a claim for occupational disease benefits. The claim was denied based on the one-year limitations period found in section 39-72-403, MCA (2003), and for lack of a causal connection between his current condition and his work.

         Held: The claim was timely filed as the claimant did not recognize he had an occupational disease while working. The testimony of his treating pulmonologist provides persuasive evidence that his work exposure to grain dust and hay permanently aggravated and worsened his lung condition. He is therefore entitled to benefits.

         Topics:

Limitations Periods: Occupational Disease. The one-year limitations period in section 39-72-403, MCA (1995-2003), does not begin to run until the claimant recognizes he suffers from a specific and permanent medical condition requiring medical treatment. Taking over-the-counter medications which provide symptomatic relief of symptoms does not constitute medical treatment and the claimant's association of symptoms which are relieved by over-the-counter medications to his work does not constitute knowledge that he is suffering from an occupational disease.
Occupational Disease: Causation. Causation is found where the treating pulmonologist provides persuasive and reasoned testimony that the cumulative effect of the claimant's work exposure to grain dust caused permanent obstructive lung disease.

         ¶1 The trial in this matter was held in Great Falls, Montana, on June 2, 2005. The petitioner was present and represented by Ms. Sara R. Sexe. The respondent was represented by Mr. David A. Hawkins.

         ¶2 Exhibits: Exhibits 1 through 27 were admitted without objection.

         ¶3 Witnesses and Depositions: Petitioner, Robert Noel, Laura Mack, and Robert Grasseschi, M.D. testified. In addition the parties filed depositions of the petitioner and Dr. T. Shull Lemire for the Court to consider.

         ¶4 Issues Presented: The Court restates the issues as follows:

¶4a Whether the petitioner's claim is timely.[1]
¶4b Whether the petitioner's current pulmonary conditions are causally related to his exposure to grain dust while working for Noel Ranch.

         ¶5 Having considered the Pretrial Order, the testimony presented at trial, the demeanor and credibility of the witnesses, the depositions and exhibits, and the ...


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