Walters v. Flathead Concrete Products Inc.

Decision Date16 March 2011
Docket NumberNo. DA 10–0185.,DA 10–0185.
Citation359 Mont. 346,249 P.3d 913,2011 MT 45
PartiesCarol A. WALTERS, individually as the Mother to her deceased son, Timothy Dwayne Walters and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Timothy Dwayne Walters, Plaintiff and Appellant,v.FLATHEAD CONCRETE PRODUCTS, INC., a Montana Corporation and its successors, and Does 1–100, Defendant and Appellee.
CourtMontana Supreme Court


For Appellant: Alan J. Lerner; Lerner Law Firm; Kalispell, Montana, Sydney E. McKenna (argued); Tornabene & McKenna, PLLC; Missoula, Montana.For Appellee: Todd A. Hammer; Angela K. Jacobs (argued); Hammer, Hewitt, Jacobs & Floch, PLLC; Kalispell, Montana.For Amici Curiae: Lawrence A. Anderson (argued); Attorney at Law, P.C.; Great Falls, Montana. Amy Eddy; Bottomly & Eddy Trial Attorneys, PLLP; Kalispell, Montana (Attorney for Montana Trial Lawyers Association (MTLA)), Bradley J. Luck (argued), Isaac M. Kantor; Garlington, Lohn & Robinson, PLLP; Missoula, Montana, Steven W. Jennings; Crowley Fleck, PLLP; Billings, Montana, (Attorney for Montana Defense Trial Lawyers Association (MDTL)), Kevin Braun, Curtis Larsen; Special Assistant Attorneys General; Helena, Montana, (Attorneys for Montana State Fund).Justice JIM RICE delivered the Opinion of the Court.

[359 Mont. 347] ¶ 1 The Eleventh Judicial District Court, Flathead County, granted summary judgment to Flathead Concrete Products, Inc. (FCP), on the grounds that § 39–71–411, MCA, the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA or Act), bars Carol Walters' (Walters) survivorship and wrongful death claims against FCP arising from the work-related death of her son, Timothy Walters (Tim). The District Court also denied Walters' motion for partial summary judgment asserting that § 39–71–411, MCA, and § 39–71–721(4), MCA, are unconstitutional. Walters appeals. We affirm.

¶ 2 We restate the issue as follows:

¶ 3 Did the District Court err in holding that Walters' claims were barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the WCA and denying her claim that § 39–71–411, MCA, and § 39–71–721(4), MCA, were unconstitutional?


¶ 4 On December 14, 2006, Tim was tragically run over and crushed by a company forklift while engaged in his employment. The record indicates that Tim was treated by emergency personnel and taken to the hospital, dying later that day from his injuries.

¶ 5 At his death, Tim was 42 years old, was not married, and had no children. He resided with his mother, Carol Walters, but did not provide support to her in an amount which would qualify her as his dependent as defined by 26 U.S.C. § 152, which is incorporated by § 39–71–116(4)(e), MCA (2005). 1

¶ 6 FCP provided workers' compensation coverage to its employees through the Montana Contractor Compensation Fund (MCCF). Pursuant to FCP's coverage, MCCF assumed responsibility for Tim's medical and hospital bills related to his treatment and death under § 39–71–704, MCA, his burial expenses up to $4,000 under § 39–71–725, MCA, and a $3,000 payment to Walters in her capacity as a non-dependent parent under § 39–71–721(4), MCA.

¶ 7 Walters filed a complaint asserting survivorship and wrongful death claims against FCP, based upon alleged intentional and negligent acts and omissions by FCP. FCP moved for summary judgment on Walters' claims based upon the exclusive remedy rule stated in § 39–71–411, MCA. Walters conceded in response that she could not meet the heightened standard of proof necessary to establish an intentional injury claim which would circumvent the exclusive remedy rule, but she moved for partial summary judgment on the grounds that § 39–71–721(4), MCA (providing $3,000 payment to nondependent parent) and § 39–71–411, MCA (exclusive remedy) were unconstitutional because the quid pro quo was not satisfied. Based on the asserted unconstitutionality of these provisions, Walters argued that her negligence claims against FCP should be permitted to proceed. The District Court denied Walters' constitutional challenges and granted FCP's motion for summary judgment. Walters appealed, and we granted motions from the Montana Trial Lawyers Association, the Montana Defense Trial Lawyers Association, and Montana State Fund to participate as amici curiae.


¶ 8 On appeal from a district court's grant of summary judgment, our standard of review is de novo, and we apply the criteria set forth in M.R. Civ. P. 56. Alexander v. Bozeman Motors, Inc., 2010 MT 135, ¶ 15, 356 Mont. 439, 234 P.3d 880 (citation omitted). “Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Town & Country Foods, Inc. v. City of Bozeman, 2009 MT 72, ¶ 12, 349 Mont. 453, 203 P.3d 1283 (citations omitted).

¶ 9 This Court's review of constitutional questions is plenary. Alexander, ¶ 16 (citing Rohlfs v. Klemenhagen, LLC, 2009 MT 440, ¶ 7, 354 Mont. 133, 227 P.3d 42). The constitutionality of a statute is a question of law, and we review a district court's legal conclusions for correctness. Alexander, ¶ 16 (citing Rohlfs, ¶ 7).


¶ 10 Walters broadly states her issue on appeal as: “Is $3,000 for the death of a worker constitutional?” Under this issue, Walters presents several arguments challenging provisions of the WCA. She argues that because Tim did not receive wage loss benefits, the quid pro quo upon which the Act is based is eliminated as to Tim, and because the $3,000 payment she received as a non-dependent parent is “not fair and balanced,” the quid pro quo is eliminated as to her. Walters thus argues that the exclusive remedy provision, § 39–71–411, MCA, should be set aside to allow her claims against FCP to proceed. She also argues that the challenged provisions of the WCA are fundamentally unfair and violate substantive due process. Walters' fairness arguments are overlapping, and she offers that “workers compensation quid pro quo is a due process analysis....” We considered quid pro quo as part of a substantive due process analysis in Satterlee v. Lumberman's Mutual Casualty Co., 2009 MT 368, ¶¶ 36–39, 353 Mont. 265, 222 P.3d 566, but independent of substantive due process in Stratemeyer v. Lincoln County (Stratemeyer II), 276 Mont. 67, 74–79, 915 P.2d 175, 179–82 (1996). Here, we analyze the issue in both ways.

¶ 11 The Montana Constitution sets forth the basis for the workers' compensation exclusive remedy provision. Adsem v. Roske, 224 Mont. 269, 270–71, 728 P.2d 1352, 1353 (1986). Article II, Section 16 provides:

The administration of justice. Courts of justice shall be open to every person, and speedy remedy afforded for every injury of person, property, or character. No person shall be deprived of this full legal redress for injury incurred in employment for which another person may be liable except as to fellow employees and his immediate employer who hired him if such immediate employer provides coverage under the Workmen's Compensation Laws of this state. Right and justice shall be administered without sale, denial, or delay.

Mont. Const. art. II, § 16 (emphasis added). This constitutional authority to deprive full legal redress by barring claims against employers who provide workers' compensation coverage “is implemented by Section 39–71–411, MCA....” Adsem, 224 Mont. at 271, 728 P.2d at 1353. That provision states:

[A]n employer is not subject to any liability whatever for the death of or personal injury to an employee covered by the Workers' Compensation Act or for any claims for contribution or indemnity asserted by a third person from whom damages are sought on account of such injuries or death. The Workers' Compensation Act binds the employee himself, and in case of death binds his personal representative and all persons having any right or claim to compensation for his injury or death, as well as the employer and the servants and employees of such employer....

Section 39–71–411, MCA (emphasis added). In simple terms, this means that “when an employee is injured in the work place due to negligence or accident, his remedy is exclusive to the Workers' Compensation Act. Common law damages are not available under Section 39–71–411, MCA, for injuries negligently or accidentally inflicted by an employer. Negligence claims should be dismissed on this ground.” Sitzman v. Shumaker, 221 Mont. 304, 307, 718 P.2d 657, 659 (1986) (internal citation omitted). The exclusive remedy provision binds not only the employee himself, but “in case of death binds his personal representative and all persons having any right or claim” for his injury or death. Section 39–71–411, MCA; see Maney v. La. Pac. Corp., 2000 MT 366, ¶ 20, 303 Mont. 398, 15 P.3d 962 ([T]he Act's exclusivity provision bars any third party action against an employer for compensation claimed ‘as a result of’ or ‘concerning’ an employee's injury or death.”). Thus, on its face, § 39–71–411, MCA, bars all claims made here on behalf of Tim and Walters.

¶ 12 The exclusive remedy is the benefit which employers are to receive from the quid pro quo compromise when they provide workers' compensation insurance coverage. Injured workers are to receive a no-fault recovery from the compromise:

“The purpose of the [WCA] is to protect both the employer and the employee by incorporating a quid pro quo for negligent acts by the employer. The employer is given immunity from suit by an employee who is injured on the job in return for relinquishing his common law defenses. The employee is assured of compensation for his injuries, but foregoes legal recourse against the employer.”

State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Bush Hog, LLC, 2009 MT 349, ¶ 13, 353 Mont. 173, 219 P.3d 1249 (citation omitted); accord Sitzman, 221 Mont. at 307–08, 718 P.2d at 659. As we explained in Stratemeyer II, [t]he exclusive remedy rule is perhaps the most firmly entrenched...

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