Oklahoma’s Retaliatory Discharge Statute Withstands Constitutional Challenge

Lack of Jury Trial and Limited Damages Pass Constitutional Muster

Oklahoma’s retaliatory discharge statute [85A O.S.Supp. 2013 § 7], which restricts jurisdiction in relevant instances to the Workers’ Compensation Commission and, therefore, prevents claimants from having their causes heard by a jury, is constitutional, according to a recent ruling of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma [Southon v. Oklahoma Tire Recyclers, LLC, 2019 OK 37, 2019 Okla. LEXIS 37 (May 21, 2019)]. The high court held a wrongful discharge claim was not an action with a guaranteed right to trial by jury under the state constitution, nor did the statute violate claimants due process rights.

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Tornadoes and other “Acts of God”: When Are Weather-Related Injuries Compensable?

Yesterday, I had an interesting e-mail exchange with a blog subscriber who wanted my take on the compensability of injuries resulting from Acts of God, specifically, tornadoes and and lightning strikes. Her question had been prompted by the fact that a number of severe storms had passed through her area in recent days. Several tornados had destroyed property and caused serious injury. She specifically wondered about those whose jobs required them to be out and among the elements. How do the various jurisdictions treat these sorts of injuries?

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NC Worker May Proceed in Tort Against Employer and Plant Nurse for Negligent Treatment

A North Carolina worker, who alleged that he was negligently diagnosed and treated by his employer’s plant nurse after suffering a stroke at work, may proceed in tort against that employer and the nurse, held a state appellate court yesterday [Jackson v. Timken Co., 2019 N.C. App. LEXIS 477 (May 21, 2019)]. The court ruled that in as much as the state’s Industrial Commission had previously determined that the worker’s injury did not arise out of the employment, the state’s trial court had jurisdiction to hear the matter. The cause of action was not barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act.

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Idaho Worker Seeking Disability Benefits May Not Avoid Independent Medical Exam

Once an Idaho claimant has filed a complaint seeking disability benefits, the employer may require her to attend a medical examination under Idaho Code § 72-433, held the Supreme Court of Idaho [Moser v. Rosauers Supermarkets, 2019 Ida. LEXIS 86 (May 15, 2019)]. Declaring that the statute was not ambiguous in its requirements, the Court cast aside the claimant’s contention that she could only be required to submit to such an examination if she was actually receiving benefits at the time the employer sought the exam.

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NY’s Public Assistance Benefits Are Wages for Purposes of Computing Loss of Use Award

Public assistance benefits paid to participants in a New York work experience program (WEP) are “wages,” as that term is defined in the state’s Workers’ Compensation Law [N.Y. Workers’ Comp. Law § 2(9)], held a state appellate court [Matter of Covert v Niagara County, 2019 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3888 (3d Dept., May 16, 2019)]. Accordingly, where a law judge found that an individual, who sustained injury while assigned to work for as part of a county WEP, had sustained a 7.5 percent loss of use injury, entitling her to 18.3 weeks of workers’ compensation benefits, it was appropriate to compute the award based on her “earnings” within the WEP.

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Virginia Court Clarifies “Sudden Mechanical or Structural Change” Requirement

A Virginia appellate court, affirming a decision by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission, held that a claimant need only prove her accident caused one “sudden mechanical or structural change” to her body to collect compensation for any injury caused by that accident; she need not demonstrate a sudden mechanical or structural change to each part of the body in which the claimant is experiencing pain for the injury to be compensable [Alexandria City Pub. Schs. v. Handel, 2019 Va. App. LEXIS 114 (May 14, 2019)]. Claimant had suffered a work-related fall and complained of ongoing pain in her shoulder. After imaging tests failed to show any abnormality in her shoulder, the employer contested that part of her claim.

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Oregon Court Says Landlord Employers Are Immune From Tort Liability

An Oregon appellate court, construing a specialized exception to the exclusive remedy provision of the state’s Workers’ Compensation Law, agreed in relevant part with a trial court that the personal representative of the estate of an employee individual who was killed in a cougar attack at the wildcat sanctuary that employed her could not maintain a separate cause of action against two officers and directors of her employer on the basis that they individually owned the land on which the sanctuary was located [Nancy Doty, Inc. v. WildCat Haven, Inc., 2019 Ore. App. LEXIS 533 (Apr. 17, 2019)]. Citing Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law extensively, the court reasoned that while a 2013 amendment to Or. Rev. Stat. § 656.018(3) broadened a so-called “dual capacity” exception to the state’s exclusive remedy rule for torts committed by an officer and/or director “outside the capacity” of his or her immunity, that exception remained quite narrow and the plaintiff here had not alleged any actions on the part of the individual defendants to bring the exception into play.

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Ohio Court Takes Broad View of “Arising Out of Employment”

Owner/Employee’s Injuries in Wreck Were Work-Related Despite Fact That Meeting’s Purpose Was Tangential

Injuries sustained in an auto accident by the owner/employee of a commercial-vehicle tire changing service as the owner traveled to meet two subordinate employees for breakfast arose out of and in the course of the owner’s employment in spite of the fact that the likely outcome of that breakfast meeting would have been to utilize the subordinate employee’s labor for the owner’s unrelated and uninsured side business, held an Ohio appellate court [Stewart v. Bear’s Tire, 2019-Ohio-1832, 2019 Ohio App. LEXIS 1914 (May 13, 2019)]. That determination was crucial for the owner, as it effectively undermined the finding by an Industrial Commission hearing officer that the owner’s receipt of workers’ compensation benefits following the accident had been procured by civil fraud.

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Divided Iowa Supreme Court Says TPAs Are Immune from Common Law Bad Faith Claims

In a signficantly divided (5-2) decision, the Supreme Court of Iowa, answering a question certified to it from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, held that, under Iowa law, a common law cause of action for bad-faith failure to pay workers’ compensation benefits may not be maintained against a third-party claims administrator of a workers’ compensation carrier [De Dios v. Indem. Ins. Co. of N. Am. & Broadspire Servs., 2019 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 56 (May 10, 2019)]. Stressing that while such an action may be maintained against both a carrier and a self-insured employer, Justice Mansfield, writing for the majority, said third-party administrators are not charged with the requisite statutory and administrative duties to make them directly liable to a complaining injured worker.

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Open Court Settlement Stipulation Binds Parties in NY Civil Action

Plaintiffs May Not Back Out Because They Didn’t Account for Workers’ Comp Lien and Medicare Set-Aside

An open-court stipulation of settlement in a New York trial court is an independent contract between the parties and will be enforced to its terms unless there is proof of fraud, duress, overreaching, or unconscionability, held a state appellate court in Lenge v Eklecco Newco, LLC, 2019 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3626 (May 8, 2019). Accordingly, where a New York worker sustained injuries in a work-related accident, filed a civil action against various defendants alleging Labor Law § 241(b) violation and common law negligence, with one of the defendants then commencing a third-party action against the worker’s employer, plaintiff was bound by a stipulation settling the matter for $325,000. He could not later back out because he had not adequately accounted for a workers’ compensation lien and the proper amount for a Medicare Set-Aside.

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