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Tom Griffin v. Liberty Northwest Insurance Corp.

April 29, 2013

TOM GRIFFIN PETITIONER
v.
LIBERTY NORTHWEST INSURANCE CORP. RESPONDENT/INSURER.



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

FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND JUDGMENT

Summary: Petitioner contends that he is entitled to reopen a settlement he entered into with Respondent. He further argues that Respondent is liable for the payment of certain medical bills. Respondent responds that the parties entered into a valid settlement agreement which closed Petitioner's medical benefits and that Petitioner has no grounds for reopening the settlement agreement.

Held: Petitioner has not proven that he is entitled to reopen his settlement nor that he was coerced into entering into the settlement. Since the parties agreed to close Petitioner's entitlement to medical benefits as part of the settlement terms, Respondent is not liable for the payment of medical bills which were incurred from treatment which occurred after the date of settlement.

¶ 1 The trial in this matter began on September 26, 2012, at Charles Fisher Court Reporting in Billings. Petitioner Tom Griffin attended and represented himself. Michael P. Heringer represented Respondent Liberty Northwest Insurance Corp. (Liberty).

¶ 2 Trial continued on January 18, 2013, at Charles Fisher Court Reporting in Billings. Griffin attended and represented himself. Heringer represented Liberty.

¶ 3 Exhibits: I admitted Exhibit 82 on December 13, 2012, when Liberty offered it during Richard Martin's deposition.*fn1 On January 18, 2013, I admitted Exhibit 88 without objection. I admitted Exhibits 1, 3, 11, 12, 16, 19, 20, 25 through 43, 48, 50, 56 through 59, 62, 63, 65, 68, 71, 73, and pages 1, 2, and 4 of Exhibit 87 over Griffin's objections. I admitted Exhibits 14, 15, 17, 18, 24, 47, 49, 55, 60, 61, 64, 66, 67, 69, and 80 after Griffin withdrew his objections to those exhibits. The parties did not move to admit Exhibits 2, 4 through 10, 13, 21 through 23, 44 through 46, 51 through 54, 70, 72, 74 through 79, 81, 83 through 86, and page 3 of Exhibit 87. Although the Court has retained these exhibits in the exhibit binder, they will not be considered by the Court in issuing this decision.

¶ 4 Witnesses and Depositions: The parties submitted two depositions of Griffin, taken December 20 and December 30, 2011, respectively, and the depositions of Richard Martin and Travis Stortz, which are considered part of the record. Since neither party had received a copy of Martin's deposition at the time of trial, I held the record open until February 1, 2013, to give the parties an opportunity to review Martin's deposition and make objections. On September 26, 2012, William David Lundin was sworn and testified.*fn2 On January 18, 2013, Griffin, Stortz, and Sandy Scholl were sworn and testified. Receiving no objections to Martin's deposition, I deemed this matter submitted on February 1, 2013.

¶ 5 Issues Presented: The pretrial order sets forth the following issues for determination: Issue One: Is Griffin entitled to reopening of his workers' compensation Settlement Order? Issue Two: Is Liberty liable for the payment of medical bills claimed by Griffin? Issue Three: Was Griffin coerced into entering into his settlement?

Motion to Dismiss Documents

¶ 6 On December 31, 2012, Griffin filed a Motion for Dismissal of Documents. In his motion, Griffin moved the Court to dismiss "all document[s] from Vocational

Management Services." Griffin alleged that Vocational Management Services interfered with his medical care and that the documents from Vocational Management Services should be dismissed "for lack of following the proper procedures for making and having involvement" in Griffin's workers' compensation claim.*fn3

¶ 7 Liberty did not respond to Griffin's motion. However, it does not appear that Liberty received Griffin's motion as Griffin filed no certificate of service indicating that he had served his motion upon Liberty.

¶ 8 Under § 39-71-105(3), MCA, this state's workers' compensation system is intended to be primarily self-administrating and the system must be designed to minimize reliance upon lawyers and the courts to obtain benefits and interpret liabilities. However, a claimant's pro se status does not relieve him from compliance with Court rules.*fn4 Under ARM 24.5.303(2), all pleadings subsequent to the original petition must be accompanied by proof of service as provided in M. R. Civ. P. 5 when submitted to the Court. In Griffin's case, he was reminded by the Court on multiple occasions that his compliance with this Court's proof of service rule was required.*fn5 In fact, he was reminded to do so when he initially contacted the Court via e-mail about the substance of this motion.*fn6

¶ 9 Since Griffin did not serve his motion upon Liberty in accordance with this Court's rules, his motion is denied.

FINDINGS OF FACT

¶ 10 On May 5 or 6, 2005, Griffin suffered an industrial injury while working for Montana Railroad Services, Inc. Liberty accepted liability for Griffin's claim.*fn7

¶ 11 On May 9, 2005, Lawrence Splitter, D.O., saw Griffin regarding his injuries. Dr. Splitter diagnosed Griffin with a right shoulder strain, left knee pain, and right heel pain. Dr. Splitter opined that Griffin could return to work, but recommended that he avoid overhead work or pushing/pulling that could aggravate his shoulder pain.*fn8

¶ 12 On June 20, 2005, Dr. Splitter reported that while Griffin's knee pain had improved, his shoulder pain had worsened.*fn9 On July 27, 2005, Dr. Splitter diagnosed Griffin with right shoulder impingement syndrome.*fn10

¶ 13 On August 9, 2006, Griffin underwent a subacromial decompression on his right shoulder.*fn11 However, he continued to have pain and stiffness in his shoulder.*fn12 On March 26, 2007, Michael R. Yorgason, M.D., noted that Griffin's condition was not improving as expected.*fn13

¶ 14 On May 1, 2007, Steven J. Klepps, M.D., evaluated Griffin. He noted that home exercise, cortisone injections, surgery, and physical therapy had not achieved adequate relief of Griffin's pain. Dr. Klepps further noted that a recent MRI revealed a partial or possibly full rotator cuff tear. He opined that Griffin could either live with the pain or undergo additional surgery.*fn14 On May 31, 2007, Griffin informed Dr. Klepps that he would like to proceed with surgery.*fn15

¶ 15 On June 18, 2007, Griffin fell, injuring his left leg and knee.*fn16 Although the record is not entirely clear, it appears this was an industrial injury and Liberty accepted liability.

¶ 16 Griffin underwent surgery on his right shoulder on July 25, 2007.*fn17 At around this time, Lundin became involved with Griffin's case as a nurse case manager. Griffin testified that he was unhappy with Lundin's involvement and refused to allow Lundin to attend a medical appointment. However, Lundin entered the appointment over Griffin's protest. Griffin testified that he got into a heated argument with Lundin afterwards and Griffin decided that he did not want Lundin involved in his care.*fn18

¶ 17 Lundin testified in this matter on September 26, 2012. Lundin stated that he did not retain any of his notes or files regarding Griffin's case.*fn19 Lundin further testified that he does not recall his employment history and does not know when he worked for Vocational Management Services.*fn20 Lundin testified that he does not recall anyone contacting him in 2011 to discuss Griffin's file or to request a copy of the file.*fn21

¶ 18 Lundin was evasive in his testimony and I did not find his testimony credible. Based on his demeanor and conduct at trial, I have no doubt that he was antagonistic in his dealings with Griffin and that his involvement in Griffin's case as a nurse case manager likely caused more problems than it solved. However, Lundin's hostile manner and lack of credibility does not affect the outcome of this case.

¶ 19 On December 17, 2007, Travis Stortz became involved with Griffin's case.*fn22 Stortz is the owner of Vocational Management Services.*fn23 He is a certified vocational rehabilitation counselor.*fn24 Stortz testified via ...


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