Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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The constitutionality of section 57 of the Administrative Worker's Compensation Act (AWCA) came before the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Claimant Brandon Gibby injured his right wrist and left knee in 2014 when he fell three to four feet from a pallet jack while in the course and scope of his employment. Employer, Hobby Lobby Stores, provided temporary total disability and medical benefits. However, when Claimant sought permanent partial disability, Employer asserted that the forfeiture provision, section 57 of the (AWCA) prohibited Claimant from receiving any further workers' compensation benefits because he had missed two or more scheduled medical appointments without a valid excuse or notice to his employer. At trial, Claimant attempted to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances for missing three scheduled medical appointments. The administrative law judge found none and denied the request for permanent partial disability despite the fact there was no dispute that Claimant's injury had left him disabled. The Workers' Compensation Commission affirmed. Following a review of the record on appeal, the transcripts of the proceedings below, and the briefs of the parties and amici, the Supreme Court held the forfeiture provision found at section 57 of title 85A violated the adequate remedy provision of Article II, section 6, of the Oklahoma Constitution. The section 57 forfeiture provision was therefore stricken in its entirety. View "Gibby v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims determined Jolid Mackey was a physically impaired person at the time of his last injury to his left shoulder in 2013. His physically impaired status was based on several adjudications of disability that predated the last injury as provided in 85 O.S.2011, section 402(A)(4). The Court further determined that he was permanently totally disabled as a result of combining the previously adjudicated disability with the disability from the last injury. The Court thereupon entered an award against the Multiple Injury Trust Fund (MITF). The Court of Civil Appeals interpreted a proviso in 402(A)(4), as limiting use of previously adjudicated disability for determining combined disability. The Court of Civil Appeals concluded that only previously adjudicated disability in the same body part as affected by the last injury could be combined. Noting that none of Mackey's prior adjudications involved disability to the left shoulder, the Court of Civil Appeals vacated the award against MITF. Certiorari from the Oklahoma Supreme Court was granted to resolve the conflict created by the Court of Civil Appeals opinions in this case and in Multiple Injury Trust Fund v. Wiggins, 2017 OK 76 (decided September 26, 2017). The Supreme Court held the Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims did not err in determining that Mackey had sustained permanent total disability as the result of the combined effect of previously adjudicated disabilities and his last job-related injury in 2013 to his left shoulder. Accordingly, the Court reinstated and sustained the award of permanent total disability against the Multiple Injury Trust Fund. View "Multiple Injury Trust Fund v. Mackey" on Justia Law

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The Workers Compensation Court of Existing Claims ruled Maggie Wiggins was a physically impaired person under 85 O.S.2011, section 402(A)(4), at the time of a job-related injury to her back in 2011. This status was based on a “Crumby” finding of preexisting disability in her back that the Court made in the same proceeding to adjudicate disability for the job-related injury to her back. The Court entered a permanent total disability award against the Multi-Injury Trust Find (MITF) as a result of combining these disabilities. In doing so, the Court acknowledged that Ball v. Multiple Injury Trust Fund, 360 P.3d 499, held a Crumby finding was not a previous adjudication of disability that would qualify a person as a physically impaired person for MITF liability. The Court believed, however, that the Legislature added a proviso to 402(A)(4), after Ball was decided, that allowed use of a Crumby finding as a qualifying previous adjudication, if the Crumby disability was in the same body part as the last injury. The Court of Civil Appeals vacated the award, ruling the proviso in 402(A)(4), only allowed Crumby disability to be combined with last injury disability in the same body part, where the claimant had otherwise satisfied the physically impaired person requirement. Certiorari from the Oklahoma Supreme Court was granted to resolve the conflict created by the Court of Civil Appeals opinions in this case and in Multiple Injury Trust Fund v. Mackey, 2017 OK 75 (decided September 26, 2017). Upon certiorari review, the Supreme Court likewise held Wiggins was not a physically impaired person at the time of her job-related injury and vacated the award against MITF. View "Multiple Injury Trust Fund v. Wiggins" on Justia Law

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A workers' compensation claimant suffered a hernia and recurrent hernia due to work. He requested a contested hearing on the constitutionality of the hernia provision of the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act, 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 section 61. An administrative law judge determined 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sec. 61 to be constitutional. Claimant appealed. The Workers' Compensation Commission affirmed the determination of the administrative law judge. The question presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review was whether the hernia provision was unconstitutional because: (1) it violated the due process rights of claimants guaranteed by U.S. Const. amend. XIV, sec. 1 and Okla. Const. art. 2, sec. 7; (2) it was a special law prohibited by Okla. Const. art. 5, sec. 46; and (3) it failed to provide an adequate remedy for a recognized wrong, in violation of Okla. Const. art. 2, sec. 6. The Supreme Court answered in the negative. However, in light of it's opinion in Corbeil v. Emricks Van & Storage, 2017 OK 71, ___ P.3d ___, this case was remanded for further proceedings concerning the application of 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sec. 61. View "Graham v. D&K Oilfield Services" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Lyle Corbeil suffered bilateral inguinal hernias at work, filed for workers' compensation benefits, and asked for a contested hearing on the issue of temporary total disability. The administrative law judge determined that petitioner was limited to six weeks of temporary total disability, despite petitioner's contention he suffered two hernias and should have been eligible for twelve weeks total (six for each hernia). Petitioner appealed to the Workers' Compensation Commission, which affirmed the administrative law judge. The question presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review was whether the hernia provision of the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act (AWCA), 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 section 61, permitted an award of up to six weeks of temporary total disability (TTD) for each hernia suffered by a claimant, regardless of whether the hernias occurred, or were repaired, simultaneously. The Court held that it did, reversed the Commission's decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "Corbeil v. Emericks Van & Storage" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kim Young was injured, sought workers' compensation benefits, and approximately thirteen months later her employment was terminated. Plaintiff sued, alleging she had been terminated from employment in retaliation for her workers' compensation claim. Further, she alleged her termination violated public policy and she possessed a tort claim pursuant to Burk v. K-Mart Corp., which entitled her to a jury trial in District Court. She alleged 85A O.S.Supp.2013 section 7 of the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act denied her a jury trial and violated Article 2 section19 of the Oklahoma Constitution. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held plaintiff's retaliatory discharge action was not a “Burk” tort, but a statutory action based upon 85 O.S.2011 section 341, which was the retaliatory discharge statute in effect when her workers' compensation injury occurred. Adjudicating the appeal did not require determining whether 85A O.S. sec. 7 violated Okla. Const. Art. 2 sec. 19; the Court’s analysis assumed 85A O.S. 7 was constitutional and thereby expressed a statutory continuation of Oklahoma's long-recognized public policy creating an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine by condemning an employer's conduct taken to retaliate for an employee's statutorily-protected actions related to a workers' compensation claim. The Court also concluded plaintiff's section 341 retaliation claim did not violate 85A O.S.Supp.2013 sec. 7. View "Young v. Station 27, Inc." on Justia Law

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Claimant sought permanent total disability benefits from the Multiple Injury Trust Fund. The Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims held that the claimant's combined injuries rendered the claimant permanently totally disabled and awarded benefits. The Multiple Injury Trust Fund appealed. On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed, finding claimant ineligible to claim benefits against the Multiple Injury Trust Fund as the claimant was not a "physically impaired person" at the time of the claimant's second on-the-job injury. The dispositive issue presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s review was whether claimant met the statutory definition of a "physically impaired person" at the time of the claimant's second on-the-job injury for purposes of determining eligibility for Multiple Injury Trust Fund benefits. As a corollary, the Court considered whether a duly-executed settlement agreement (memorialized on a form prescribed by the Workers' Compensation Court) constituted an adjudication of the claimant's disabilities. The Court answered both questions in the affirmative. View "Multiple Injury Trust Fund v. Garrett" on Justia Law

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Shonda Brisco entered into an employment agreement with Oklahoma State University, which provided that she would be reappointed contingent on her job performance. She was not reappointed and successfully brought suit for breach of contract. After trial, the district court awarded Brisco attorney fees under 12 O.S. 2011 section 936. The State appealed the award of fees, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to address whether fees were authorized under 12 O.S. 2011 section 936, and held they were not. View "Brisco v. Oklahoma ex rel Bd. of Regents Agricultural & Mechanical Colleges" on Justia Law

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Employee-appellant Tracy Meeks sued an insurer for bad faith refusal to timely comply with several orders of the Workers' Compensation Court awarding employee temporary total disability benefits after the insurer, without good cause, withheld employee's benefits on twenty-six separate occasions. Insurer moved for dismissal, asserting employee failed to obtain a certification order from the Workers' Compensation Court (a jurisdictional prerequisite for commencing a bad-faith action in district court). The District Court granted insurer's motion, but the Supreme Court reversed. Because the certification requirements were met here, employee was free to proceed in district court on his bad-faith claim against insurer for insurer's alleged bad faith refusal to provide temporary total disability benefits as ordered by the WCC. View "Meeks v. Guarantee Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Rodney Stanley Brown was employed by Respondent Claims Management Resources (CMR) as a claims adjuster. Brown suffered personal injury to his left knee. At the time Brown was injured, he finished his workday, clocked out, was leaving the office for the day when he fell while descending an interior stairwell. Brown's work area was on the second floor of the building where he worked, and CMR occupied the entire floor. Brown was unable to conclusively identify any factor that might have caused his fall. While admitting an injury occurred, CMR asserted Brown's injury was not compensable within the meaning of the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act (AWCA). A hearing on the matter was held before the Administrative Law Judge, and after considering the parties' stipulations, evidence, and arguments, the Administrative Law Judge concluded that Brown had failed to meet his burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he suffered a compensable injury within the meaning of the AWCA. The Supreme Court concluded after its review that Brown was acting in the course and scope of his employment, and his injury was a compensable injury. The Workers' Compensation Commission’s interpretation of 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sections 2(9) & (13) was legally incorrect and its order denying compensability was clearly erroneous in view of the competent evidence presented. Because relief was available on alternative grounds, the Court did not reach the constitutional issues presented. View "Brown v. Claims Management Resources, Inc." on Justia Law