Coming from any other venue, a $61,000 judgment awarded to state Rep. Mike Christian for injuries suffered in an auto accident would have been surprising. For the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court, it was business as usual.
A judge deemed that Christian, R-Oklahoma City, was on the job when he got hurt in the February 2009 accident, and so awarded him $342 per week for 180 weeks — a cool $61,560. That doesn't include medical costs.
Christian's accident occurred while carpooling to the Capitol with his wife. He contended he was “on duty” at the time because he was driving from his south Oklahoma City district, his “duty station.”
He waited more than a year to file his claim. Records from Christian's doctor showed that in the weeks after the accident, the lawmaker said symptoms from the accident had resolved themselves. Now Christian says he may need surgery on his neck. Judge Bob Lake Grove found that Christian has an 18 percent permanent partial disability in his neck and the same amount in his back.
Injuries suffered by employees while commuting to and from work usually don't qualify for workers' comp benefits. The judge noted an exception to the law that allows benefits when the employer pays travel expenses. Legislators can get mileage reimbursement for one round trip per week to the Capitol. Although Christian had waived that reimbursement, the judge said the exception still applied.
Grove also noted that Christian testified in court last week that he had legislative papers and his state-owned computer in the car. In a deposition last year, Christian said he didn't know if he had the computer with him. On the stand, he insisted he did.
Reached Monday night, Christian said, “I'm sure the judgment speaks for itself.” Yes it does. Cases like this bolster the argument that Oklahoma consider moving to an administrative system, instead of a court-based system. How could it be any worse?