Montana: workers' comp insurance only valid until retirement age

Disabled workers who qualify for Social Security cannot receive work comp benefits, the Montana Supreme Court says.

The Montana Supreme Court handed down on Wednesday a decision in an appeal to the ruling in Catherine Satterlee vs. Lumberman 's Mutual Casualty Co.

In that case, originally concluded in 2007, Catherine Satterlee and two other disabled plaintiffs had argued that their workers' comp payments should not have ended when they turned 65. Under Montana state law - upheld in Wednesday's ruling - ending disabled workers' benefits "when they qualify for Social Security payments is ... constitutional," Justice William Leaphart said.

He conceded that the law may not be fair, but said that lawmakers have a duty to provide "wage-loss benefits that bear a reasonable relationship to actual wages lost." Leaphart added that the work comp system's costs must be taken into account, too.

In Montana, 27,000 businesses have work comp insurance through the Montana State Fund. The president of the State Fund, Laurence Hubbard, noted that a ruling in the workers' favor could have cost the fund $300 million and led to higher insurance rates.

"This had a very large potential cost, not only to current insurance rates, but also for claims that remain open," Hubbard said.

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Posted: November 4, 2009

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