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Appeals panel reduces Oklahoma legislator's worker's comp award

An appeals panel has upheld a controversial ruling that state Rep. Mike Christian is due workers' compensation benefits for injuries suffered in a traffic accident driving to the Capitol. The panel, however, reduced his award by about $10,000.
by Nolan Clay Published: October 11, 2012

An appeals panel has upheld a controversial ruling that state Rep. Mike Christian is due workers' compensation benefits for injuries he suffered in a 2009 traffic accident.

The panel, however, cut the legislator's award from $61,560 to $51,300.

Christian, R-Oklahoma City, struck a truck while driving in a personal car with his wife to the Capitol on the morning of Feb. 26, 2009. The truck's driver fled and was never located.

The key issue in the case is whether Christian should even get benefits. Most employees can't get benefits in workers' compensation court for injuries suffered commuting to or from work.

There are exceptions in the law, particularly when an employer pays its employees' travel expenses.

In July, a workers' compensation court judge agreed the exception applied to Christian's case because legislators can get reimbursement for one round trip per week to the Capitol.

The trial judge, Bob Lake Grove, also ruled the exception applied even though Christian had waived reimbursement.

The state House of Representatives and its insurance carrier, CompSource Oklahoma, appealed that issue. Their attorney asked the panel of three workers' compensation court judges to vacate the award. The attorney, Kristi Bynum Russell, argued it was “contrary to law and against the clear weight of the evidence.”

In their order on appeal, the three judges upheld without comment the trial judge's decision that Christian's injuries arose “out of and in the course of claimant's employment.”

The order was filed Tuesday.

The state House and its insurance carrier could choose to appeal the issue further, to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

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by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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