State Rep. Mike Christian has been awarded $61,560 in workers' compensation benefits for permanent injuries suffered in a traffic accident driving to the state Capitol in 2009.
An appeal is expected.
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. He said he hurt his neck and back.
Judge Bob Lake Grove agreed with Christian that his injuries arose “out of and in the course of claimant's employment.”
The judge ruled Christian is entitled to $342 per week for 180 weeks after the accident — a total of $61,560.
The judge ruled Christian has an 18 percent permanent partial disability to his cervical spine from the accident and an 18 percent permanent partial disability to his lumbar spine from the accident.
The judge ruled the legislator's attorney, Richard Bell, of Norman, will get $12,312. The attorney fees are to be deducted from Christian's total award.
“It was kind of quick,” Christian, 42, testified at a hearing last week about striking the truck three miles south of the state Capitol.
He said the truck driver made an illegal U-turn in front of him. “I was kind of knocked goofy,” he said.
Christian testified he was driving from his district to the Capitol to present a bill to a House transportation committee.
The award — if it stands up on appeal — will be paid by CompSource Oklahoma, which provides workers' compensation insurance to the state House of Representatives.
CompSource Oklahoma had contended Christian was not on the job at the time of the accident and should get nothing.
Exceptions in the law
Most employees can't get benefits in workers' compensation court for injuries suffered commuting to or from work. There are exceptions in the law.
Key to the judge's decision was the exception that allows benefits for coming and going to work when the employer pays travel expenses.
The judge agreed the exception applied to Christian's case because legislators are entitled to reimbursement for their mileage for one round trip per week to the Capitol. The judge ruled the exception applied even though Christian had waived reimbursement.
An attorney hired by CompSource Oklahoma had argued the exception did not apply to Christian's case because he was carpooling with his wife.
“Because claimant was commuting with his wife, who was to continue on to her place of employment in their personal vehicle, he could not have claimed mileage for the trip even if he had not waived his right since the trip did not serve a public purpose,” the attorney, Kristi Bynum Russell, contended.
The judge also ruled for Christian because the legislator testified he had with him in the car his state-owned computer and legislative papers he “used in performance of his legislative duties.”
Christian had testified in a deposition last year that he not know whether he had the computer in the car but he insisted in his testimony last week that he did have the computer.
The judge has been on the bench for four years. His order was filed Friday and made public Monday.
Christian said Monday evening, “I'm sure the judgment speaks for itself.”
It was the third time Christian had been awarded benefits in workers' compensation court.
Christian, a former Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper, was awarded $9,942 in benefits in 1998 for a permanent partial back injury, court records show.
Christian was hurt on April 2, 1996, when his patrol car was struck from behind during a traffic stop in Tulsa, records show.
In 2001, Christian was awarded $15,000 in benefits for permanent disabilities from a 1999 turnpike accident and from a 2000 arrest of a suspect, records show.
Christian did not file a workers' comp claim over the 2009 traffic accident for more than a year.