Use Back Button to return to Index of Cases
IN THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION COURT OF THE STATE OF MONTANA
1996 MTWCC 70
WCC No. 9606-7564
STATE COMPENSATION INSURANCE FUND
MONTANA MAJOR WINDOW
Summary: Self-employed window salesman/installer elected sole proprietor coverage in workers' compensation insurance policy. He declared monthly wages of $900 for purposes of the election. After suffering an injury, claimant alleged he was limited in job duties and wanted wage supplement benefits based on loss of post-injury business earnings rather than declared $900 monthly earnings.
Held: Section 39-71-118(2)), MCA (1989), provides that "all weekly compensation benefits must be based on elected wages...." Section 39-71-703(1)(b)(i), MCA (1989), which governs wage supplement benefits, states that a worker must be "compensated in weekly benefits." Under the plain language of the statutes, all weekly benefits, including wage supplement benefits, must be based on the amount elected. Thus, $900 is claimant's time-of-injury wage for purposes of wage supplement benefits.
The issue presently before the Court involves a matter of statutory interpretation. Specifically, the parties ask the Court to determine whether the amount of coverage a sole proprietor elects pursuant to section 39-71-118(2), MCA (1989), as the basis for weekly compensation benefits, is the sole proprietor's "actual wages" for the purpose of determining wage supplement benefits under section 39-71-703(b)(i), MCA (1989).
The parties have stipulated to the following facts:
(Agreed Statement of Facts and Issue at 1-2.)
The parties frame the issue presented at present as follows:
The parties further agree to presenting the following issue to the Court for summary ruling:
(Id. at 2.)
The issue presented to the Court involves sections 39-71-118(2) and -703(1)(b)(i), MCA (1989). The claimant was injured on October 16, 1989, so the 1989 versions of those sections apply to the injury. Buckman v. Montana Deaconess Hospital, 224 Mont. 318, 321, 730 P.2d 380, 382 (1986). The sections provide in relevant part:
§ 39-71-118(2), MCA (1989).
§ 39-71-703(1)(b)(i), MCA (1989).
Relying on the "actual wages" language of section 39-71-703(1)(b)(i), MCA (1989), the petitioner argues that he is not bound by his $900 election and is entitled to use his actual earnings in computing wage supplement benefits. Presumably, those earnings are higher than the $900 he elected when obtaining workers' compensation insurance coverage.
Where the language of a statute is plain on its face, the Court must apply the statute as written. See Department of Revenue v. Dray, 266 Mont. 89, 92, 879 P.2d 651, 652 (1994). However, sections within an act cannot be read in isolation. They must be coordinated and harmonized with other sections. State v. Meador, 184 Mont. 32, 36-37, 601 P.2d 386, 388-89 (1979).
In the present case, section 39-71-118(2)(d), MCA (1989), specifically provides in relevant part, "All weekly compensation benefits must be based on the amount of elected wages . . . ." (Emphasis added.) Wage supplement benefits are "weekly compensation benefits." Section 39-71-703(1)(b)(i), MCA (1989), which governs the payment of wage supplement benefits, states in relevant part, "A worker must be compensated in weekly benefits . . . ." (Emphasis added.) The terms of the statute could not be plainer: All weekly benefits, including wage supplement benefits, payable to a sole proprietor electing coverage under the Workers' Compensation Act, must be based on the amount elected by the proprietor under section 39-71-118(2), MCA (1989).
The two sections are harmonized by reading section 39-71-118(2)(d), MCA (1989), as defining "actual wages" for sole proprietors. This reading is consistent with the rule of statutory construction requiring courts to give effect, where possible, to all provisions and language in a statute. Dale v. Trade Street, Inc., 258 Mont. 349, 357, 854 P.2d 828, 832 (1993). Petitioner's reading of the statute would create an exception to the comprehensive -- "all weekly compensation benefits" -- language of the section, thus nullifying that language. Such interpretation is contrary to the rule that courts should "give effect to all of the words used," State V. Berger, 259 Mont. 364, 367, 856 P.2d 552, 554 (1993), and the rule that courts cannot "omit what the legislature has included," In re R.R.K, 260 Mont. 191, 197, 859 P.2d 998, 1002 (1993) (citing § 1-2-101, MCA). Moreover, even if the language in the two sections is deemed in conflict, that conflict must be resolved in favor of the more specific provision. Mosely v. Lake County Justice Court, 256 Mont. 206, 208, 845 P.2d 732, 733-34 (1993). Here, the more specific provision is section 39-71-118(2)(d), MCA, which specifically pertains to sole proprietors and partners, while section 39-71-703(1)(b), MCA, pertains to injured workers in general.
I therefore hold that $900 is petitioner's time-of-injury wage for purposes of computing his wage supplement benefits.
Partial summary judgment is entered for respondent in accordance with the foregoing holding. A trial to determine the proper rate for wage supplement benefits and whether petitioner is entitled to a lump sum shall be scheduled during the week of March 17, 1997, in Kalispell, Montana. A scheduling order will be issued under separate cover.
DATED in Helena, Montana, this 15th day of November, 1996.
c: Ms. Laurie Wallace
Use Back Button to return to Index of Cases