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a. Industrial Injury
Montana law distinguishes between an industrial injury and an occupational disease. An industrial injury is an incident that occurs during a single work shift. The deadline for reporting an industrial injury is 30 days.
A claimant’s “failure” to report an injury is one of the most common challenges to an otherwise valid workers’ compensation claim. While a worker is only required to report the injury to a supervisor, the reporting of an injury serves as a perfect challenge to the factual basis of a claim. The purpose behind the 30-day notice was to allow the employer an opportunity to rectify or fix the dangerous condition that caused the injury. Instead, it has been used by the insurance carrier to pit the employer against the employee. To complicate matters further, workers are reluctant to report injuries to their supervisor. If there is any question about whether an injury occurred, it is vital that the employee reports and documents the injury. Lack of documentation in the reporting of an injury opens the door for the employer to challenge an otherwise valid claim.
The best way to think of the difference between an industrial injury and an occupational disease is to understand that injuries from a fall come from an industrial injury while a condition such as carpal tunnel syndrome is usually an occupational disease.
b. Occupational Disease
An occupational disease is a harm, damage, or death arising out of or contracted in the course and scope of employment caused by events occurring on more than a single day or shift. Put simply, if your injuries occurred over more than a single shift, you suffered an occupational disease. As such, the 30-day reporting requirement does not apply.
A claimant must notify the employer of a workplace injury within 30 days of the incident. Under 39-71-601, MCA, a claimant must file a written claim with the Department of Labor and Industry, the employer, or the insurer within 12 months of the incident. This time limit is extended to 24 months if the claimant can establish lack of knowledge of disability, latent injury, or equitable estoppel. Under no circumstances can a claim be filed more than 24 months after the discovery of a workplace injury.
Although a year may seem like a significant amount of time, it goes by quickly. Reporting the occupational disease or condition to an employer as soon as an employee is aware of the condition is critical. To make matters more confusing, an insurance carrier will challenge the onset date and attempt to move the onset date back as far as possible. Even though a worker is able to continue his or her employment following the onset date, worsening of the condition may eventually result in a claimant becoming disabled and unable to continue working. As with an industrial injury, a claimant, although not legally required to do so, must not only report but also document the occupational disease and the date of reporting the occupational disease to his or her employer.