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Christian Cornelius v. Lumbermen's Underwriting Alliance

August 7, 2012

CHRISTIAN CORNELIUS PETITIONER
v.
LUMBERMEN'S UNDERWRITING ALLIANCE RESPONDENT AND EMPLOYERS INSURANCE COMPANY RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Jeremiah Shea Judge

ORDER DENYING RESPONDENT EMPLOYERS INSURANCE COMPANY'S MOTIONS FOR A NEW TRIAL, AMENDMENT TO FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW, AND FOR RECONSIDERATION

Summary: Respondent moved for a new trial, amendment to this Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law, and reconsideration of this Court's decision, arguing that the Court erred in finding it liable for Petitioner's occupational disease claim and for awarding Petitioner TTD and medical benefits, plus her attorney fees and a penalty.

Held: Respondent has not proven that it is entitled to any of the relief sought in its motions. Its motions for a new trial, amendment to the findings of fact and conclusions of law, and reconsideration are denied.

¶ 1 Respondent Employers Insurance Company (Employers) moves this Court to grant Employers a new trial, amend its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment, and/or reconsider its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment in this matter.*fn1 Employers contends that the Court erred in holding it liable for Petitioner Christian Cornelius' occupational disease claim, awarding Cornelius temporary total disability (TTD) and medical benefits, and concluding that Employers is liable for Cornelius' attorney fees and a penalty.*fn2 Cornelius and Respondent Lumbermen's Underwriting Alliance (Lumbermen's) both oppose Employers' combined motions.*fn3

¶ 2 Employers contends that it is entitled to relief from the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment issued in this matter, either in the form of a new trial, amendment to the findings of fact and conclusions of law, or reconsideration. Employers relies on ARM 24.5.337 and 24.5.344 in seeking this relief.*fn4 Cornelius responds that the alleged errors Employers has set forth in its brief in support of its motions do not provide grounds for either reconsideration, amendment, or a new trial, but rather are matters more appropriately heard on appeal.*fn5 Lumbermen's contends that Employers has not offered valid reasons for its motions and has presented the same arguments it made, and which the Court rejected, at trial.*fn6

Employers' Motions to Amend and for a New Trial

¶ 3 Under ARM 24.5.344, any party to a dispute may petition for a new trial or request amendment to the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law within 20 days after the judgment is served. The party requesting the new trial or amendment shall set forth specifically and in full detail the relief requested. Lumbermen's contends that Employers has failed to satisfy the specificity requirement regarding its request for amendment.*fn7 Indeed, the only mention of Employers' request for amendment is in the caption of its petition. Therefore, for its motion to amend, I conclude Employers has failed to meet the requirements of ARM 24.5.344(2) in that it did not set forth specifically and in full detail the relief requested by the motion to amend.

¶ 4 As for Employers' motion for a new trial, this Court has held that the applicable grounds for a new trial are found within § 25-11-102, MCA,*fn8 as limited by § 25-11-103, MCA, which provides that only subsections (1), (3), and (4), apply to cases tried by a court without a jury. The applicable provisions of § 25-11-102, MCA, state:

The former verdict or other decision may be vacated and a new trial granted on the application of the party aggrieved for any of the following causes materially affecting the substantial rights of the party:

(1) irregularity in the proceedings of the court, jury, or adverse party or any order of the court or abuse of discretion by which either party was prevented from having a fair trial;

. . . (3) accident or surprise that ordinary prudence could not have guarded against;

(4) newly discovered evidence material for the party making the application that the party could not, with reasonable diligence, have discovered and produced at the trial . . . .

¶ 5 Employers does not specify which specific grounds under § 25-11-102, MCA, should entitle it to a new trial. The only argument Employers sets out specific to its motion for a new trial is, "Specifically, it would appear that the evidence of the Petitioner's work history mandates that the award of Temporary Total Disability Benefits be subject to a new trial at the very least."*fn9 Cornelius points out that Employers has not alleged any specific abuse of discretion nor has it set forth any alleged irregularities in this Court's proceedings. Cornelius further notes that Employers has set forth no allegations of accident or surprise. Cornelius contends that the only remaining evidence Employers may be relying upon is the arguable "newly discovered evidence" that she was briefly employed during the spring of 2012 -- months after the trial concluded.*fn10

Both Cornelius and Lumbermen's point to Burglund v. Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co., in which the Montana Supreme Court held that it was within this Court's discretion to deny a motion for a new trial from an injured worker who argued his industrial injury allegedly forced him to stop working 17 months after his trial.*fn11 In its underlying decision, this Court stated that it cannot retry a case because of subsequent developments, but that a change in a claimant's condition and disability could be grounds for a new petition under § 39-71-2909, MCA.*fn12 Likewise in the present case, Employers asks this Court to revisit its decision based on developments which ...


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