Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The case involves Nancy Anaya-Smith, the next of kin of Michael Brian Smith, who was killed in a single-car accident while he was a passenger in a company vehicle owned by Fixtures & Drywall Company of Oklahoma (FADCO). The vehicle was being driven by Smith's coworker, Duane Clark. Anaya-Smith alleges that Clark's negligence caused the fatal accident. At the time of the accident, FADCO maintained an insurance policy with Federated Mutual Insurance Company (Federated). The policy provided up to $1,000,000 of liability coverage per accident and an additional $6,000,000 of liability coverage per accident under an umbrella policy. However, FADCO had rejected uninsured motorist (UM) coverage for all employees, except for its directors, officers, partners, owners, and their family members.The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma granted summary judgment in favor of Federated, concluding that the vehicle was an uninsured vehicle at the time of the accident because Clark is immune from tort liability under the workers' compensation exclusive remedy provision, and that FADCO's policy providing UM coverage for some individuals who qualify as insureds but rejecting UM coverage for other insureds does not violate Oklahoma law. Anaya-Smith appealed from the summary judgment order.The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma answered the first certified question in the affirmative, holding that the vehicle qualifies as an uninsured motor vehicle within the meaning of Oklahoma law. The court answered the second certified question in the negative, concluding that the plain language of Oklahoma law requires a named insured to either elect or reject uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage for all insureds under the policy, treating every insured in the same manner. The court declined to answer the third certified question as the record was undeveloped and the parties did not submit legal arguments pertaining to it. View "Anaya-Smith v. Federated Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In this case, the petitioner, Gary Stricklen, filed a claim for permanent total disability with the Workers' Compensation Commission, which was dismissed by an administrative law judge. The Multiple Injury Trust Fund (MITF) argued it was not liable because all of Stricklen's injuries occurred while he was employed by the same employer. The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma held that the phrase "subsequent employer" in 85A O.S.Supp.2019 § 32 refers to the employer at the time of the employee's "subsequent injury" referenced in the same statute, which is used for the purpose of that statute for a claim against the MITF. The court reversed the Commission's order that was based on the erroneous view of the statutory language and remanded the case for further proceedings. The petitioner's constitutional issue was not addressed because the court's interpretation of the statutory language did not require it. View "STRICKLEN v. MULTIPLE INJURY TRUST FUND" on Justia Law

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Kevin Cantwell worked for Flex-N-Gate for 28 years during which he sustained numerous work-related injuries. He was awarded permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits for these injuries under the law as it existed before February 1, 2014, referred to as Title 85. After this date, workers' compensation claims were governed by a new law, Title 85A, under the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act (AWCA). Cantwell sustained three more injuries after the enactment of AWCA and was again awarded PPD benefits. However, the Workers' Compensation Commission denied payment of these benefits based on their interpretation of Section 46(H) of the AWCA, which limited the total weeks of PPD benefits to 350.The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma, in this case, disagreed with the Commission's interpretation. The court determined that the 100% limitation on PPD benefits under Section 45(C)(1) of the AWCA controls over the number of weeks when awarding compensation for PPD. This is particularly applicable where a claimant has compensable awards for job-related injuries that occurred both before and after February 1, 2014. The court vacated the Commission's order in each case and remanded the cases for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "CANTWELL v. FLEX-N-GATE" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Steven Bird, an independent contractor hired to install a new checkout lane at Defendant Pruett's Food store, was injured after falling off a ladder Defendant had supplied to aid Plaintiff in completing the work. Plaintiff initiated a negligence action, seeking damages from his injuries and lost wages. Plaintiff presented his case at trial, after which Defendant demurred to Plaintiff's evidence. The trial court sustained the demurrer. Plaintiff appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that Plaintiff failed to establish that Defendant owed him a duty of care. View "Bird v. Pruett's Food, Inc." on Justia Law

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Erasmo Paredes sustained an on-the-job injury in late 2019. He continued working for his employer, Schlumberger Technology Corp., until January 30, 2020. His employer's insurance carrier, Travelers Indemnity Company of America, provided voluntary medical treatment to Paredes from January 3, 2020, through February 14, 2020. Paredes's CC-Form 3 Claim for Compensation was filed on December 3, 2020, alleging an injury date of December 29, 2019. This claim was filed ten months after Paredes's last medical treatment, but within one year from the date of his injury. Travelers's counsel entered an appearance in the Workers' Compensation case on December 22, 2020. On February 18, 2021, the affidavit of Travelers's claims handler was filed with attachments indicating Travelers provided medical treatment to Paredes in the total amount of $1,371.47. No disability benefits were paid. On the same date, counsel for Travelers filed the CC-Form 10 Answer and Notice of Contested Issues on behalf of Schlumberger raising the defense of statute of limitations pursuant to Section 69(A)(1) of Title 85 A. 1 Schlumberger also denied compensable injuries, alleged pre-existing conditions pursuant to 85A O.S. Supp. 2019, § 2(9)(b)(6), and denied benefits. An ALJ issued an order that was filed on May 13, 2021, concluding that Paredes's claim was not barred by Section 69(A)(1). Schlumberger appealed to the Workers' Compensation Commission ("Commission"), and the parties filed written arguments. Oral argument before the Commission was held on January 14, 2022. The Commission, sitting en banc, affirmed the Decision of the ALJ by order filed January 18, 2022. Schlumberger appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court seeking review of the Commission's interpretation of 85A O.S. Supp. 2019, § 69(A)(1). Finding no error in the Commission's interpretation, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Schlumberger Technology Corp. v. Travelers Indemnity Co. of America" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Mwande Serge Kpiele-Poda ("Employee") was injured at a wellsite while repairing a conveyor that activated and crushed his legs. While Employee's Workers' Compensation claim was still pending, he filed a petition asserting negligence and products liability against his employers, two wellsite operators, and the manufacturers and distributors of the conveyor. Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. was named in the body of the petition but omitted from the caption. After the statute of limitations period expired, Employee amended his petition to add Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. as a defendant in the petition's caption. A second amended petition added other parties. Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. moved to dismiss arguing the claim was time-barred because the amended petition did not relate back to the first petition. Employee's employers also moved to dismiss arguing the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act and Oklahoma precedent precluded employees from simultaneously maintaining an action before the Workers' Compensation Commission and in the district court. The district court granted each dismissal motion and certified each order as appealable. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained and consolidated Employee's separate appeals, holding: (1) the district court erred when it dismissed Employee's action against Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. as time-barred; and (2) the district court properly dismissed Employee's intentional tort action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Kpiele-Poda v. Patterson-UTI Energy, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Jayen Patel, M.D. brought a tort claim for wrongful termination against defendant-appellee Tulsa Pain Consultants, Inc. (TPC). The trial court found Patel was not an at-will employee and entered a directed verdict in favor of TPC. Patel appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. TPC moved for appeal-related attorney fees, which the Court of Civil Appeals denied. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether TPC had a contractual right to recover attorney fees as the prevailing party in Patel's wrongful termination claim. After review, the Supreme Court found that the specific language in the parties' employment agreement authorized attorney fees in this case. View "Patel v. Tulsa Pain Consultants" on Justia Law

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An automobile driven by defendant Patrick McLaughlan, struck plaintiff Jerry Harwood while Harwood was leaving his work shift and crossing the street to an employer provided parking lot. After an unsuccessful attempt to recover workers compensation benefits for his injuries, Harwood filed a lawsuit against the driver and his employer. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit against the employer for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Harwood appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that because an employer may have assumed the duty to provide a safer crosswalk for access to an employer designated parking lot, the employee pled a claim for relief which is legally possible. The trial court's dismissal was premature. View "Harwood v. Ardagh Group" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jeffrey Booth, then an installation service manager for Appellee Home Depot, U.S.A., noticed at a job site that a customer was being charged for window wraps that were not needed. Booth phoned and emailed his supervisor about the perceived overcharge. The next day, Appellee began an investigation of Booth for an email he sent ten days earlier critiquing a colleague's work performance. After a one-day investigation of the allegation in the email, and two days after the overcharge report, Appellant Booth was terminated. Booth sued Home Depot in Oklahoma state court claiming wrongful termination under Burk v. K-Mart Corp., 770 P.2d 24 (1989), alleging his job performance was good and that the email investigation was only a pretext for the real reason for termination -- his reporting of the overcharging of customers to his supervisor. Home Depot removed the Oklahoma County case to the federal district court under diversity jurisdiction. In his amended federal complaint, Booth claimed that the overcharging of customers violated the Oklahoma Home Repair Fraud Act and/or the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act. Home Depot did not dispute that, if overcharging occurred, it would violate those acts. Home Depot argued that the violation of the statutes did not articulate a clear mandate of Oklahoma public policy sufficient to support a Burk tort. The federal district court agreed with Home Depot that the statutes did not articulate a clear public policy and dismissed the petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Booth then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which then certified a question about the statutes to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Supreme Court responded: the OHRFA and the OCPA protect specific individual consumers against fraud with criminal and civil remedies for those individual victims. "The Court will not expand our public policy exceptions to include protection from economic harm. Without a clear mandate from the Legislature, the Acts do not qualify as an established public policy." View "Booth v. Home Depot, U.S.A." on Justia Law

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Appellant Kristi Ho, a nurse, sued her employer, appellee Tulsa Spine & Specialty Hosptial, L.L.C., alleging that the Hospital fired her because she would not come to work. She refused to go to work because of concern for her health and safety. She alleged the Hospital violated the Governor's directive to discontinue elective surgeries for a short time during a COVID-19 pandemic, and it did so without providing her proper personal protective equipment. The Hospital filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the nurse was an employee-at-will, and that she failed to state a claim for wrongful discharge under Oklahoma law. The trial court agreed, and dismissed the lawsuit. The nurse appealed, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the case to address a matter of first impression: whether the Governor's temporary emergency COVID orders expressed public policy necessary to apply an exception to at-will employment which would support an action for wrongful discharge. After review, the Court held that because the Legislature expressly granted the Governor authority to issue temporary emergency orders, and the orders expressed the established public policy of curtailing an infectious disease, the exception to at-will employment as articulated by Burk v. K-Mart Corp., 770 P.2d 24 and its progeny, was applicable from March 24, 2020, until April 30, 2020. View "Ho v. Tulsa Spine & Specialty Hospital" on Justia Law