Knocking Politicians Goofy in Oklahoma Workers Comp Case

21 Jul, 2012 Bob Wilson


I must say, politicians in Oklahoma are giving me some very juicy quotes of late. Last week I got to opine on a gun law that was apparently needed in that state because a wild turkey scared a state Senator. This week I learned of interesting testimony a state representative provided while attempting to get workers' comp benefits for a car accident in 2009.  During his testimony, State Rep. Mike Christian told a workers' compensation court judge that he struck a truck that made an illegal U-turn in front of him. 

He told the judge that it happened "kinda quick" and that “I was kind of knocked goofy.”

It is as if State Senator Ralph Shortey mistook him for a wild turkey, and beat him with a club. A review of Oklahoma law does not make it appear that the condition of "goofy" is covered directly by workers' compensation. It appears that the physical condition underlying the goofy diagnosis could be, however. It might also be argued that had goofy developed over time following the collision, instead of through the more instantaneous "knocking" method, than a PTSD claim might be in order. 

Christian claims he hurt his neck and back in the accident and may have to have neck surgery. He contends he was already working on the morning of the accident as he was commuting to the Capitol from his "duty station" in the southern part of Oklahoma City. To the uninitiated, this would be what most of us call "home". 

I'm glad he didn't fall in his bedroom on the way back from the bathroom. Then he would have been commuting from his "doody station". 

But I digress.

Even though he was carpooling with his wife the morning of the accident, he was the only witness to testify at the hearing. The truck driver allegedly fled, and has never been located. I would beat feet too, if I had just knocked a state legislator goofy. There are laws against that, I'm sure. And those guys carry clubs. And frighten easily. 

One of the factors called into question with the case arises from the fact that Christian has never filed for mileage reimbursement for his daily commute, as he is apparently entitled to do. This could call compensability for the commute into question. As his defense in the case, he testified that he chose not to collect the mileage allowance to save the taxpayers about $500 a year. An attorney for CompSource Oklahoma, however, suggested the real reason was because he did not want to violate constitutional regulations on public travel since he often carpooled with his wife. Christian vehemently objected to that notion, saying “That's not true. I thought it was the proper thing to do, the American thing to do.”

I certainly can respect this most Yankee Doodilish of attitudes, but it seems while Christian has set a high standard for himself regarding mileage reimbursement, it does not translate into the realm of workers' comp. Indeed, he appears quite willing to file workers comp claims. This one, as best as I can tell, is at least his third one with the state. 

A former Oklahoma state patrolman, he had at least two claims with that agency, each time getting a settlement for a permanent partial disability. In 1998 he was awarded $9,942 in workers' compensation for a permanent partial back injury, apparently from having his patrol car struck from behind during a traffic stop in Tulsa. Then, in 2001, court records show Christian was awarded $15,000 in workers' compensation for permanent disabilities from a 1999 turnpike accident and from a 2000 arrest of a suspect.

Almost sounds like a man retiring one body part at a time.

Interestingly, Christian did not file the claim from the 2009 accident for more than a year, and doctor's records indicate he had told his doctor a short time afterward that his symptoms from the collision had completely resolved themselves.

Christian may very well be entitled to benefits if his injury claims prove valid, depending on how state law reads. A special exception for an elected official that covers the cost of their commute may well allow for a compensable determination, even if private citizens would be excluded under the going and coming rule. We will have to see how that turns out. 

I just couldn't resist the goofy "goofy" comment. After all, if you are going to do goofy, you need to do it right. Not doing so is, well, kinda goofy.


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