Workers’ Comp 101: Understanding Your Right to Benefits in Montana

Workers’ Comp 101: Understanding Your Right to Benefits in Montana

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Miller Tourtlotte Law

April 17, 2024

Getting injured at work is stressful enough, but then comes the question – will workers’ compensation cover your medical bills and lost wages? Eligibility isn’t always as clear-cut as you might hope. Let’s break down the basics of Montana’s workers’ compensation laws to help you determine if you have a valid claim.

Who is Required to Have Workers’ Compensation Insurance?

  • Most Employers: In Montana, generally, if an employer has one or more employees working full or part-time, they must carry workers’ compensation insurance (MCA § 39-71-401). There are some very narrow exceptions for specific industries like agricultural workers on small farms, sole proprietors, or some family-owned businesses.
  • Independent Contractors: Things get tricky here. True independent contractors aren’t covered by their client’s workers’ comp. They’re considered their own business. However, many workers are misclassified – if you’re told you’re a contractor but treated like an employee, you may still be entitled to workers’ comp.

What Types of Employees Are Covered?

  • Full-Time and Part-Time: Your hours don’t generally matter as long as you’re an actual employee and meet other eligibility requirements.
  • Temporary and Seasonal: Workers hired for specific projects or seasons are also typically covered.
  • Minors: Even minors legally allowed to work are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in Montana.

What Injuries Are Typically Covered?

Montana workers’ compensation is a “no-fault” system. This means you don’t have to prove your employer was negligent to receive benefits. To be eligible, you need to show:

  • You are an Employee: If your status as an employee vs. independent contractor is disputed, this is the first hurdle.
  • Work-Related Injury or Illness: This includes sudden accidents (falls, machinery accidents) and occupational diseases that develop gradually (hearing loss, repetitive strain injuries, etc. – MCA § 39-71-119).
  • Reported Your Injury: You must report your injury to your employer promptly and in writing. There are tight deadlines (MCA § 39-71-603).

What Injuries Might NOT Be Covered?

  • Self-Inflicted Injuries: Intentionally harming yourself will disqualify you from benefits (MCA § 39-71-407).
  • Injuries While Commuting: Generally, the commute to and from work isn’t covered. Exceptions exist for work-related travel or if your employer provides transport (MCA § 39-71-407).
  • Injuries Caused by Intoxication: Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol can jeopardize your claim (MCA § 39-71-407).
  • Pre-Existing Conditions: This is complicated. If a work injury worsens a pre-existing condition, you might still be eligible for some benefits. However, this often leads to disputes requiring expert opinions.

Real-Life Scenarios: Who’s Likely Eligible, Who Might Not Be

  • Construction Worker Injured in a Fall: Assuming they are an employee, a construction worker hurt on the job would typically have a strong claim.
  • Office Worker with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: This is likely covered as an occupational disease, assuming they can link it to job duties.
  • Delivery Driver Hurt in a Car Accident While Working: Strong likelihood of coverage, barring factors like intoxication.
  • Retail Worker Hurt on Their Commute: This likely wouldn’t be covered, as commuting is generally excluded.
  • Independent Contractor Misclassified as Such: If they truly function as an employee, getting hurt on the job might entitle them to benefits.

Important Considerations

  • The Burden of Proof is On You: While you don’t have to prove employer fault, you do need to show your injury is work-related.
  • Medical Treatment: You may have initial limitations on choosing your own doctor (MCA §39-71-1101). Seeing an authorized workers’ comp provider is crucial for your claim.
  • Don’t Delay Reporting: Even seemingly minor injuries should be reported promptly to protect your rights. There are strict time limits in workers’ comp law (MCA § 39-71-603)

What If My Claim Is Denied?

Don’t give up! Denials are common. You have the option to appeal (MCA § 39-71-2907). A skilled workers’ compensation attorney can assess your situation and fight for your rights.

Why Choose Miller Tourtlotte Law, PLLC?

We understand the complexities of Montana’s workers’ compensation system. Our goal is to help injured workers obtain the benefits they deserve to focus on their recovery.

Disclaimer: This blog is informational. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Every workers’ compensation case is unique.

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