Okla. Worker's Claim for Comp Curbs Potential Tort Suit

17 Feb, 2023 Frank Ferreri

                               

Oklahoma City, OK (WorkersCompensation.com) -- An injured worker might look at his case and think, "Not only should I get my workers' comp benefits, but I should also sue these guys for this."

However, as an employee learned in Kpiele-Poda v. Patterson-UTI Energy, 2023 OK 11 (Okla. 2023, unpublished), the exclusive remedy provisions of state law often get in the way of such "double dipping."

A worker was injured at a wellsite while repairing a conveyor that activated unexpectedly and crushed his legs. The worker filed a workers' compensation claim, and, while it was pending, he filed a lawsuit alleging negligence against his employer.

The court dismissed the worker's lawsuit against the employer, concluding that the worker's remedy was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the state's workers' compensation commission. The worker appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Under Oklahoma law, for accidental injuries incurred in the course of employment, the rights and remedies afforded to an injured employee under the state's workers' compensation act are "exclusive of all other rights and remedies of the employee."

However, an exception provides that the exclusive remedy rule does not apply if an employer fails to secure payment of compensation or if the injury was caused by an intentional tort committed by the employer.

In this case, the court found that the worker's injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment, meaning that his rights and remedies fell under the workers' compensation act. The court explained that state law permits an employee to maintain an action either before the commission or in the district court, but not both. In other words, an employee can either sue in court or pursue workers' compensation benefits in Oklahoma.

While the worker could have brought his lawsuit in court had he not filed for workers' compensation benefits, the worker gave notice of his workers' compensation claim by filing a CC-Form 3, which invoked the jurisdiction of the commission.

"Employee chose the Commission as the forum in which to pursue his remedy when he filed the CC-Form 3," the court reasoned. "While his workers' compensation claim remained pending, he filed his district court action, which is explicitly prohibited by the text of [state law]."

Thus, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's dismissal of the worker's lawsuit against the employer.

Get compliance information from Oklahoma and the rest of the U.S. on WorkCompResearch


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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

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