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Court Ruling Could Change How Workers’ Comp Cases Are Heard

Oklahoma Workers Compensation Commission
Oklahoma Workers Compensation Commission

A district court ruling that could prove to significantly impact the way worker’s compensation cases are handled in Oklahoma may soon be heard by the state Supreme Court, according to officials at the Advisory Council on Workers’ Compensation.

A district judge ruled this month that Pottawatomie County man Darrell Duck’s injury while on the job at a Shawnee Hibdon Tire location was foreseeable, and therefore was not covered by the state’s workers’ compensation act, and concluded that Duck has a right to sue his employer for compensation.

Bob Burke, a workers’ comp lawyer and a former council member, said in a presentation to the council that Duck, who he is representing, was trying to loosen a bolt when he fell and was injured.

Burke said if Duck’s injury is not covered, then he is without remedy, which is in violation of a violation of the Constitution. “For every wrong, there’s a remedy,” Burke explained. “You’ve got to have some place to go to get a remedy.”

Steve Lewis, former Speaker of the Oklahoma House and now an attorney, explains the basis of early workers’ compensation legislation and the potential problem in the 2013 law in a post at the Oklahoma Policy Institute:

Near the turn of the 19th century workers’ compensation was added to the social compact in every state as the result of what became known as the “grand bargain.” Under the grand bargain injured workers gave up the right to sue their employers for pain and suffering and agreed to accept a certain but lesser amount for lost wages and medical benefits. Employers gave up the right to claim the injury was due to the worker’s negligence and avoid all liability for the injury. The 2013 worker’s compensation law opened a can of worms by eliminating “foreseeable” injuries from workers’ compensation. Many jobs carry an element of risk, but the job has to get done even when it’s foreseeable that some workers will get hurt. The judge ruled that since the legislature closed the door on workers’ compensation (for foreseeable accidents), the door to filing a lawsuit is opened.

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