SUMMARY OF COURT CHALLENGES – Cases and Issues Resolved Part-I

By April 20, 2017CASE RESULTS

TO TITLE 85A, THE ADMINISTRATIVE
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ACT

Cases in Which Opinions Have Been Released for Publication or Issues Resolved:

1. Carlock v. Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2014 OK 29, Supreme Court No. 112,607

Challenge:
Application for Original Jurisdiction to challenge seven provisions of 85A which gave the Workers’ Compensation Commission (Commission) authority to hear appeals from the Court of Existing Claims (CEC) and exert administrative authority over the CEC.

Supreme Court Decision:
On April 17, 2014, a unanimous Supreme Court granted Original Jurisdiction and opined that “All aspects of the adjudication of claims for injuries occurring prior to February 1, 2014,” shall be vested in the CEC. The Commission was prohibited from reviewing any CEC orders. The effect of the decision created two separate workers’ compensation systems in Oklahoma—one for injuries occurring before February 1, 2014, and another for new law claims occurring on or after that date.

2. True v. Workers’ Compensation Commission, Supreme Court No. 113,321

Challenge:
Petition for Original Jurisdiction and Writ of Mandamus to require Commission to hear appeals from administrative law judges.

Supreme Court Decision:
On November 5, 2014, the Supreme Court dismissed the action after the Commission agreed to immediately set appeals for hearing before the Commission en Banc.

3. Williams v. Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2014 OK 98, Supreme Court No. 113,270

Challenge:
Application for Original Jurisdiction and Petitions for Writ of Mandamus and Prohibition to require the Commission to provide court reporters for the reporting of hearings before the administrative law judges and the Commission en Banc.

Supreme Court Decision:
On November 17, 2014, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 to assume Original Jurisdiction and grant the Writs of Mandamus and Prohibition. The effect of the decision was to order the Commission to provide a court reporter to report all hearings and prohibit the Commission from providing only an audio recording in lieu of a court reporter.

4. Deason v. Integris Baptist Medical Center, Supreme Court No. 113,648

Challenge:
The appeal challenges the constitutionality of Section 65(D)(2) which restricts compensability for infectious and communicable diseases to cases in which the disease is contracted in a hospital or sanitarium that treats such disease.
The case challenges the entire AWCA’s drastic cut in benefits, limitations of compensability, and use of the AMA Guides as a breach of the Grand Bargain, bringing about an end to exclusive remedy.
The case challenges the grant of exclusive remedy, Section 5(C), even if there is no remedy available in Title 85A.
The appeal argues that this provision is a “special law” and is unconstitutional because it provides disparate treatment of members of a single class.

Supreme Court Decision:
This case has been settled. Petitioner has dismissed the appeal because the legislature corrected the glaring problem of making many claims for police, fire, and emergency personnel not compensable. SB 776 has been signed into law and returns to the old law definition of compensability. An infectious or communicable disease will be compensable in Oklahoma if it “arises out of employment.”

5. Smith vs. State of Oklahoma, Oklahoma County, No. CV-2015-1168

Challenge:
A class action lawsuit filed to prohibit the Oklahoma Tax Commission, State Finance Director, and State Treasurer from transferring any funds from the Multiple Injury Trust Fund for use for any other state government program and agency. The lawsuit alleged that the annual MITF assessment is a “tax” and cannot be spent by the legislature for any other purpose than designated.

Resolution:
After assurances from state officials that there is no intention to use any of the MITF annual assessment paid by Insurance companies and Own Risk companies for any other purpose except paying MITF awards and administration, the case was dismissed.

6. Gillispie v. Estes, Supreme Court No. 113,508

Challenge:
Claimant appealed ALJ order that he had no compensable injury because he had a previous injury to the same part of the body.

Decision:
Oklahoma Court of Appeals, Division IV, reversed ALJ’s opinion and held:
(1) An aggravation of a pre-existing condition is a new injury.

(2) The appellate court will look at the entire record in determining if there is evidence to support the adjudicatory decision of an administrative agency acting in a quasi-judicial capacity.

(3) Since most of the time, there is no substantial record before the Commission, the appellate court will look at the record and order of the administrative law judge on appeal.

7. Robison v. True, Supreme Court No. 113,528

Challenge:
Employer appealed ALJ decision that traveling nurse, paid mileage for a special trip, suffered a compensable injury in automobile accident while traveling from work to his home.

Decision:
Oklahoma Court of Appeals, Division IV, sustained ALJ and Commission finding of compensability, holding:
(1) The legislature did not abolish the long-held “special task” exception to the general rule of non-compensability for injuries going to and from work. If an injury occurs because the travel was solely due to a special task for the master, it is covered under the new comp law.

(2) If the Employer pays mileage for the travel to and from work, an injury occurring during such travel is compensable.

(3) The legislature intended to abolish certain formerly compensable injuries such as those that occur “off the clock,” even though they occur during a break on employer’s premises. This seems to open the door for common law negligence actions based upon accidents now deemed not work-related by AWCA.

8. Dolores Billy v. Burford Manor, Inc., Murray County District Court, CJ-2015-4

Challenge:
Plaintiff was injured when a picnic table collapsed while she was on a lunch break. The claim was denied under workers’ compensation because the injury did not fit the statutory requirement that it occur “inside the employer’s facility.”
The case was filed as a common law negligence action in Murray County. As expected, the Defendant moved to dismiss the district court action because it is a workers’ compensation case. The Plaintiff has responded to the Motion to Dismiss, citing identical cases which have been denied by the Workers’ Compensation Commission. The Plaintiff’s position is that an injured person in Oklahoma must have a forum in which to bring a claim. If it can’t be brought in workers’ comp, the district court is the only other venue available.

Decision:
This case was settled after the district judge believed that the district court had jurisdiction to decide the constitutional challenge and indicated that the statutory limitation of “inside the employer’s facility” meant any place on the employer’s premises to which access is available to the public and employees. Other cases on appeal deal with this specific issue.

9. Torres v. Seaboard Foods, Supreme Court No. 113,649

Challenge:
The appeal challenges the constitutionality of Section 2(14) which excludes a claim for cumulative trauma unless an employee works for an employer a minimum of 180 days continuously.
The case challenges the entire AWCA’s drastic cut in benefits, limitations of compensability, and use of the AMA Guides as a breach of the Grand Bargain, bringing about an end to exclusive remedy.
The case challenges the grant of exclusive remedy, Section 5(C), even if there is no remedy available in Title 85A.
The appeal argues that this provision is a “special law” and is unconstitutional because it provides disparate treatment of members of a single class. In addition, the section is a denial of fundamental due process.

Supreme Court Decision:
In a 50-Page Decision, the court unanimously found that the arbitrary 180-day limit on cumulative trauma was unconstitutional as a denial of federal and state due process. In the comprehensive opinion, the supreme court said that the legislature must have a rational state interest in cutting benefits and shifting the economic burden to an injured worker. If there is no rational state interest for setting an arbitrary limitaion of benefits, it is a denial of federal and state due process.

Continue Reading… Part – II

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