Q&A with Madalene Witterholt
Certain workers’ comp appeals still can start at Supreme Court
Q: I understand a recent court ruling impacts workers’ compensation in Oklahoma.
boldA: In Carlock v. Workers’ Compensation Commission, the Oklahoma Supreme Court confirmed more than 90 years of jurisprudence in holding that the law in effect at the time of an injury is the law that governs the case. The new Workers’ Compensation Act seems to say that all injuries, whether they occurred before or after Feb. 1, would have to be appealed to the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission before they could be appealed to the Supreme Court. This would have eliminated the longstanding right of appeal to a panel of Workers’ Compensation judges sitting en banc. The Supreme Court held this new appeal procedure unconstitutional; any pre-Feb. 1 injury cases would not be subject to the jurisdiction of the Workers’ Compensation Commission and could continue to be presented for appeal before the traditional panel of three Workers’ Compensation judges or directly to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Q: How will this impact Oklahoma employers and employees?
A: In evaluating workers’ compensations cases, both employees and employers need to know what law applies to know what to expect as a case proceeds. The Supreme Court is clear that injuries occurring prior to Feb. 1 will not be subject to the new Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Act. From the employer’s perspective, this means obligations and defenses under the old law will continue. For employees, it allows them to know how their case will proceed and what benefits will be available. For all parties, the ability to appeal to the Workers’ Compensation Court sitting en banc (as a panel of three judges) can continue as a more expeditious and cost-effective review of trial court decisions.
Q: What rulings can we expect in the future regarding workers’ comp?
A: The Oklahoma Supreme Court has confirmed its commitment to reviewing all Oklahoma legislation to assure its conformance with the Oklahoma Constitution and existing relevant case law. As the Supreme Court works its way through the new law, we anticipate the Supreme Court to move cautiously in upholding any parts of the law that appear to be completely contrary to the state’s basic values regarding workers’ and employers’ rights when an on-the-job injury occurs.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER