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Montana State Fund v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp.

Supreme Court of Montana

July 31, 2018

MONTANA STATE FUND, Petitioner and Appellant,
v.
LIBERTY NORTHWEST INS. CORP., Respondent and Appellee,
v.
KIM WIARD, Claimant.

          Submitted on Briefs: May 2, 2018

          APPEAL FROM Montana Workers' Compensation Court, WCC No. 2015-3519 Honorable David M. Sandler, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Thomas E. Martello, Special Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Michael Heringer, Davina Attar, Brown Law Firm, Billings, Montana

          OPINION

          JAMES JEREMIAH SHEA JUSTICE

         ¶1 Montana State Fund (State Fund) appeals from the Workers' Compensation Court's (WCC) Order Denying Montana State Fund's Motion for Summary Judgment and Granting Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp.'s Motion for Summary Judgment. We reverse.

         ¶2 We restate the issue on appeal as follows:

Whether the Workers' Compensation Court erred when it held that § 39-71-407(14), MCA, did not apply for purposes of determining liability for the exacerbation of Wiard's occupational disease.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 Kim Wiard (Wiard), began working at Tricon Timber, LLC (Tricon), in 2002. In 2010 or 2011, Wiard was working in the planer department when she was diagnosed with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). At that time, Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. (Liberty) provided Tricon with workers' compensation insurance coverage. Liberty accepted liability for Wiard's CTS as an occupational disease (OD) in August 2011.

         ¶4 Wiard transferred to a different job position at Tricon and her CTS symptoms largely dissipated. She used over-the-counter pain medication, ceased wearing wrist braces, and did not seek additional treatment for her CTS.

         ¶5 In 2012 or early 2013, Wiard again changed jobs at Tricon, moving into a grader position, which she found more mentally and physically demanding than her previous positions.

         ¶6 On November 1, 2013, Liberty ceased providing workers' compensation insurance coverage for Tricon. State Fund then became Tricon's workers' compensation insurance provider and remained Tricon's insurer for the remainder of the time relevant to this case.

         ¶7 After Wiard had worked in the grader position for some time, she began working longer and more frequent shifts. She was having pain in her left hand, but was unable to take time off work.

         ¶8 Wiard sought medical treatment for bilateral wrist pain on February 17, 2014. She was taken off work and scheduled for follow-up care. However, her condition worsened and she went to an emergency room later that night, complaining of severe right-wrist pain radiating into her shoulder. She was diagnosed with an acute exacerbation of CTS, given medications, and referred to an orthopedic surgeon.

         ¶9 On February 19, 2014, Wiard went to another emergency room, complaining of pain in her left hand. Michael Righetti, MD, diagnosed Wiard with an acute exacerbation of chronic left CTS. Due to the severity of her symptoms, Dr. Righetti performed an emergency carpal tunnel release on her left wrist ...


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