Defenses: Collateral Estoppel


Stewart v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. [04/23/13] 2013 MT 107 The defense of collateral estoppel bars a party from re-litigating an issue and conserves judicial resources.  The most crucial element of collateral estoppel is the identical issue or “precise question” which must have been litigated in the prior action.  Even though the two actions here involved questions of causation, each was brought under different statutes: the first, under the impairment statute, § 39-71-711, MCA; the second, under the medical benefit statute, § 39-71-704, MCA.  Thus, the two actions involved different questions under different statutes and collateral estoppel is inapplicable.

Auto Parts of Bozeman v. Employment Relations Division, Uninsured Employer's Fund, 2001 MT 72. Supreme Court decision. Allegedly uninsured employer which failed to appeal DLI hearing officer's determination that DLI did not have jurisdiction to inquire into contract dispute between State Compensation Insurance Fund and employer regarding validity of policy collaterally estopped from arguing that policy existed in defense against UEF penalty assessment. WCC reversed.

Stewart v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. [04/11/12] 2012 MTWCC 11 Petitioner failed to meet her burden of proof in her first claim before this Court when her treating physician could not explain a causal relationship between her knee injury or surgery and her continuing pain so as to merit a higher impairment rating.  A medical expert testified in the current proceeding that the fibrosis present in Petitioner’s knee six weeks following her initial surgery was evidence of damage to the saphenous nerve more probably than not resulting either from her injury or surgery, satisfying her burden of proof that she is entitled to continuing medication for her pain.  These are two different claims under different statutes of the WCA and do not satisfy the identical issue element of collateral estoppel.

American Alernative Ins. Group v. Sung Sorenson & MSGIA [9/19/00] 2000 MTWCC 60 Two successive insurers of school district moved for summary judgment arguing that janitor's 1997 OD claim was barred by doctrine of collateral estoppel or res judicata where OD claim filed in 1996 was denied by DOL based on OD panel examination and claimant did not request a hearing on that denial. Court denied motion for summary judgment where claimant raised triable issues of material fact regarding whether her work following her 1996 claim materially aggravated her condition or she suffers from a new condition.
Arthur Schimmel v. Montana Uninsured Employers' Fund [4/4/00] 2000 MTWCC 19 Washington court's determination in contract action that claimant contracted to work as an independent contractor is not controlling of IC issue raised in Montana workers' compensation proceeding. Parties cannot evade the substantive requirements of Montana WC law by their contracts. Contractual designation of claimant as an IC is neither conclusive nor entitled to deference.
American Alternative Insurance Group v. Sung Sorenson [12/8/99] 1999 MTWCC 79 When insurer sought to join prior insurer into occupational disease proceeding in WCC, prior insurer argued claimant had previously filed a claim against it for the same condition and any present claim against it was barred by collateral estoppel. Court nonetheless granted motion for joinder, reasoning that while the collateral estoppel defense may ultimately prevail, that defense is better asserted based on the prior insurer's presence in the case and development of a record.
Ware v. State Compensation Insurance Fund [4/25/97] 1997 MTWCC 26 Where the rules of the WCC do not require that requests for attorney's fees and penalty be joined with substantive claims for benefits, res judicata or collateral estoppel do not prevent claimant from claiming, in a second petition, attorney's fees and penalty relating to benefits awarded on an earlier petition.

Ostwald v. Plum Creek Manufacturing [12/05/95] 1995 MTWCC 102 Although DOL previously found claimant to suffer from an occupational disease, neither res judicata nor collateral estoppel bar his claim for workers’ compensation benefits where Workers’ Compensation Act and Occupational Disease Act are not the same. Court may determine in this proceeding that claimant suffered a compensable injury aggravating his back condition.