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Firefighter's case highlights Oklahoma workers' compensation controversies

A Midwest City firefighter last month was awarded $15,100 in workers' compensation disability payments after his knee locked up while digging a “gopher hole” in his own yard.
by Randy Ellis Published: March 18, 2013

A Midwest City firefighter last month was awarded $15,100 in workers' compensation disability payments after his knee locked up while digging out a gopher hole in his own yard.

The firefighter's attorney is the husband of Gov. Mary Fallin, who has been pushing for workers' compensation reform. The judge who awarded the disability payments is a Fallin appointee.

Injured firefighter Jerry Clayton Carroll, 40, was awarded the disability benefit after he and his attorneys successfully convinced workers' compensation judges that his injury stemmed from a hyper extended knee injury he suffered eight months earlier while running on a treadmill at work.

Critics of Oklahoma's adversarial workers' compensation court system have long complained award determinations are overly influenced by politically connected attorneys and dueling doctors' opinions.

Carroll's attorney, D. Wade Christensen, is as politically connected as they come. He's the governor's husband.

And doctors' opinions in the case were far apart.

Dr. LeRoy Young, whose opinion was sought out by Carroll's employer, said he thought the firefighter had sustained 10 percent impairment to his knee.

Meanwhile, Dr. M. Stephen Wilson, a doctor whose opinion was sought out by Christensen's law firm, issued an opinion that Carroll had 39 percent impairment to the knee.

An injury must be work-related to even qualify for workers' compensation payments.

Carroll said running on a treadmill is part of required conditioning exercises for Midwest City firemen.

Carroll testified he hurt his knee on the treadmill more than eight months before his knee locked up while he and his 6-year-old son were digging out a gopher hole in their yard with a small garden trowel.

Carroll filed an accident report with his supervisor after the treadmill incident but continued performing conditioning exercises and didn't seek medical attention until after the incident at his home.

Carroll did not return calls for comment Friday.

Differing opinions

When Carroll filed his workers' compensation claim, Midwest City attorneys challenged it.

They cited an April 11, 2012, report by Young, the doctor they chose, who said he thought Carroll had suffered an “intervening injury” more than eight months after the treadmill incident that was responsible for Carroll's medical complaints.

Wilson, whose opinion was sought by Christensen's firm, disagreed.

“It is my opinion that Mr. Carroll has sustained a significant injury to his right leg/knee due to a work related accident while employed by the Midwest City Fire Department,” Wilson stated.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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