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1999 MTWCC 7
WCC No. 9809-8058
MARY ANN HAYES, MARY THOMPSON OWEN,
ELIZABETH SLEATH and GLENDA TRUESDELL
STATE COMPENSATION INSURANCE FUND
WEST MONT HOME HEALTH MANAGEMENT SERVICES, INCORPORATED
ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Summary: Four petitions containing nearly identical allegations were consolidated. All petitioners want to reopen settlements they made on occupational disease claims, alleging mutual mistake of fact in that they were not aware they suffered from Dursban poisoning. After petitioners moved for summary judgment, respondent State Compensation Insurance Fund filed its own motion for summary judgment, alleging the four petitions were time-barred.
Held: State Fund's motion for summary judgment is granted. Undisputed evidence demonstrates that petitioners filed an Amended Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial in District Court on January 11, 1996, which included allegations that they suffered permanent injuries through exposure to Dursban at work. Under section 27-2-203, MCA, the period for commencing a claim to reopen based on mistake was two years. Where the petitions to reopen were not filed in the Workers' Compensation Court until September 21, 1998, the claims to reopen are time-barred.
¶1 This cause is brought by four petitioners in four separate petitions. Because the petitions have common facts and prayers, they were consolidated.
¶2 The petitions are nearly identical. Each alleges that its petitioner contracted an occupational disease while employed by West Mont Home Health Management Services, Incorporated (West Mont). The date the occupational disease was contracted varies from July 1, 1993 to October 1, 1993, inclusive. The petitions further allege that occupational disease claims were filed and thereafter settled in August 1995.
¶3 Petitioners now seek to reopen the settlements on account of a mutual mistake of fact. Specifically, each petitioner alleges in paragraph 4:
(Petition for Hearing at 1-2)
¶4 On November 23, 1998, the petitioners moved for partial summary judgment asking the Court to find that they are entitled to reopen their settlements. In their supporting brief, petitioners set forth the following facts, which they allege are uncontested:
(Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Supporting Memorandum at 2-4,citations omitted.)
¶5 Respondent (State Fund) replied to the motion and shortly thereafter filed its own motion for summary judgment alleging that all four petitions are time-barred. The factual basis for the motion is not controverted by petitioners. (petitioners' brief in opposition to respondent's motion for summary judgment and waiver of oral argument at 1.) The facts are:
(Respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment at 2, citations omitted.) A copy of the amended complaint and demand for jury trial filed in District Court is attached to the motion. It is also part of the Hayes' deposition, which has been submitted as part of the record upon which the petitioners base their summary judgment motion. (Hayes Dep. Ex. 1 at 742-52.)
¶6 The petitioners have expressly waived oral argument. (petitioners' reply brief in opposition to respondent's motion for summary judgment and waiver of oral argument; petitioners' reply brief in support of motion for partial summary judgment and waiver of oral argument.) While the State Fund has not expressly waived oral argument, its failure to submit a written request for oral argument constitutes such waiver. ARM 24.5.329(5).
¶7 The State Fund's summary judgment motion is dispositive, thus the Court will address it and need not address the petitioners' motion.
¶8 The statute of limitations applicable to setting aside contracts on account of a mutual mistake of fact is two years. Section 27-2-203, MCA, provides:
27-2-203. Actions for relief on ground of fraud or mistake. The period prescribed for the commencement of an action for relief on the ground of fraud or mistake is within 2 years, the cause of action in such case not to be deemed to have accrued until the discovery by the aggrieved party of the facts constituting the fraud or mistake.
The limitation applies to petitions to reopen workers' compensation settlements. Whitcher v. Winter Hardware Co., 236 Mont. 289, 296, 769 P.2d 1215, 1219 (1989).
¶9 The State Fund urges that the two-year statute of limitations commenced running on January 11, 1996, when claimants filed an amended complaint in district court alleging that they were disabled on account of their exposure to Dursban. If so, the limitations period expired on January 10, 1998. Since claimants did not file their petitions to reopen their settlements until September 21, 1998, their petitions would be time-barred.
¶10 The amended complaint and demand for jury trial filed in the Montana First Judicial District Court for Lewis and Clark County on January 11, 1996, alleges inter alia:
¶11 Nonetheless, claimants assert that they did not discover the facts constituting the mistake until after they filed their amended district court complaint. (petitioners' brief in opposition to respondent's motion for summary judgment and waiver of oral argument at 2.) They argue that even though they knew at the time they filed the amended complaint that they may have suffered injuries from it, they were not aware that they in fact were injured or of the extent of their injuries until 1997, when further medical information was developed. (Id. at 2-3.) They say that despite the allegations in their amended complaint, at that time there was no definitive medical opinion diagnosing Dursban exposure, indicating the nature and extent of claimants' disabilities, and relating their medical conditions to Dursban. (Id. at 3-4.)
¶12 Contrary to claimant's assertion, actual knowledge concerning the exact nature of their medical conditions and the relationship of the conditions to Dursban is not required to commence the running of the statute of limitations. In Rath v. St. Labre Indian School, 249 Mont. 433, 439-40, 816 P.2d 1061, 1065 (1991), the Montana Supreme Court rejected that very notion.
¶13 Actual knowledge of the mutual mistake is not required to start the [249 Mont. 440] running of the statute of limitations. Rather, the statute of limitations begins to run when the facts are such that the party bringing the action would have discovered the mistake had he or she exercised ordinary diligence. [Citations omitted.]In Rath the Court held that a claimant's awareness of the "possibility" of surgery was sufficient to trigger the statute of limitations even though he did not learn that back surgery was a certainty until more than two and a half years later.
¶14 In this case, by January 11, 1996, the claimants were aware that they had been exposed to Dursban while working for West Mont. They were aware, at a minimum, that Dursban could cause disabling neurological and respiratory problems, chronic fatigue, loss of memory and sensitivity to other chemicals. The medical reports attached to claimants' motion for summary judgment document neurological symptoms, difficulty concentrating and remembering, chronic fatigue, and hypersensitivity to various chemicals, the very sort of problems expressly mentioned in their amended complaint. And, they were aware that their disabling conditions could be related to Dursban, indeed they expressly alleged that their disability was caused by their Dursban exposure.
¶15 Certainly, on January 11, 1996, the claimants had sufficient information and belief to cause them to document their case through medical examination and opinion. That they failed to obtain definitive medical advice until 1997 and 1998 does not toll the statute of limitations. The statute commenced running on January 11, 1996, and their present petitions are time-barred.
¶16 For the reasons set forth in the foregoing discussion,
¶17 IT IS HEREBY ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the petitions in this cause be and are hereby dismissed with prejudice.
DATED in Helena, Montana, this 21st day of January, 1999.
c: Mr. David W. Lauridsen
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