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Oklahoma Supreme Court asked to decide whether worker gets benefits over fall

A fired Enid meat packing plant worker sought benefits for a knee injury suffered during a fall on the way to her car to smoke a cigarette. Judges have ruled in favor of her request once and against it twice. She now is asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to decide.
by Nolan Clay Modified: January 1, 2013 at 8:49 pm •  Published: January 2, 2013

On an icy and cold Valentine's Day in 2011, Enid meat packing plant worker Tammie Darlene Rivera fell on her way to her car to smoke a cigarette during a break.

Rivera, 51, still is waiting to see whether she will get workers' compensation benefits for an injury to her left knee because of the fall.

Her case is an example of how complicated workers' comp law has become. Judges looking at the same facts and legal precedents have ruled in her favor once and against her twice. She now is asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to decide.

“Each case stands on its own set of facts and circumstances,” the plant's attorney, W. Jeffrey Dasovich, wrote in a legal filing about such cases. “No two are alike.”

Workers' comp reform is expected to be a major issue in the upcoming session of the state Legislature. Republican leaders plan to push for a major overhaul of the workers' compensation system.

“We'd like to see some dramatic changes that really are meaningful,” Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said in December.

About the case

Rivera had worked at Advance Food Co. for more than a year when she fell in the plant parking lot. She was fired a few days later.

She filed a workers' compensation claim seeking medical treatment for an injury to her left knee. She also sought eight weeks of benefits because of a total temporary disability.

“I slipped and fell on ice and snow, and my leg went out from underneath me, went sideways,” Rivera testified at a hearing in July 2011.

She testified she slipped while walking to her car to smoke a cigarette and drink tea during a paid break. She said she decided not to go to the company's outdoor smoking area that day because employees weren't allowed to have food and drink there.

Advance Food Co. did not allow smoking inside the plant for sanitary reasons. The company did let employees have drinks and eat snacks inside the plant.

Rivera testified a supervisor had instructed employees to go to their cars if they wanted to both smoke and drink on breaks.

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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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