Articles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court

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Petitioner Trina Engles received temporary total disability benefits in 2006, for a December 2, 2005 injury. She had fallen backwards in a chair at work, which caused the injury. On January 15, 2010, Engles received permanent partial disability benefits for the neck injury. She had previously suffered a non-work-related injury in 1998. That injury occurred from an electrocution and fall at her home. She had multiple back and neck surgeries as a result. Ultimately she was awarded benefits from the Multiple Injury Trust Fund based on the most recent Court of Civil Appeals decision. MITF filed a timely petition for certiorari to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, arguing the Court had never before addressed the conclusion and holding of the Court of Civil Appeals. It argued the holding that a PTD benefit claimant against MITF may reopen an underlying case during the pendency of a claim against MITF, settle the reopened claim, and then use the settlement to later obtain a MITF award after another division of the Court of Civil Appeals ruled there was no jurisdiction for claimant's claim of benefits against MITF. MITF also argued the court did not follow the Supreme Court's jurisprudence, arguing it ignored the law-of-the-case doctrine. MITF claims the court did not correctly apply the statute, ignoring the Court's case law that a change of condition for the worse was not a subsequent injury under section 172. MITF contended that Engles was not eligible for benefits as she only has one previous adjudicated injury and her change of condition for the worse just reopened the original injury. Finally, MITF argued the court determined the competence of evidence sua sponte, contradicting Oklahoma case law. The Supreme Court agreed that Engles had one adjudicated injury, and suffered no subsequent injury after her 2005 injury; she could not be a physically impaired person and the appellate court lacked jurisdiction against MITF. "Reopening a lone injury and characterizing the resulting compromise settlement as a second adjudicated injury cannot establish jurisdiction over MITF." The Court vacated the opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Engles v. Multiple Injury Trust Fund" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a 2015 motor vehicle accident between Ronald Fox and James Mize in Norman, Oklahoma. Mize was traveling northbound on Sunnylane Road in a tractor-trailer owned by his employer, Van Eaton Ready Mix, Inc., when he made a left turn onto Van Eaton's property. According to the traffic collision report, Mize made an improper turn in front of oncoming traffic. Fox, who was travelling southbound on Sunnylane Road on a motorcycle, collided with Mize's tractor-trailer and was declared dead at the scene from a head injury. The report provided that Fox made no improper driving action and that neither driver appeared to be speeding at the time of the collision. Mize held a Class "A" commercial driver's license subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR), and Van Eaton stipulated that Mize was acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the collision. Mize was taken from the scene to Norman Regional for a blood test, which showed he was under the influence of a prescription narcotic banned by the FMCSR at the time of the accident. Plaintiff, the personal representative of Fox's estate, brought suit against Mize for negligence and negligence per se and sued Van Eaton for negligence and negligence per se under the theory of respondeat superior. Plaintiff also asserted direct negligence claims against Van Eaton for negligent hiring, training, and retention, and negligent entrustment. Van Eaton stipulated that Mize was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the collision and sought dismissal of the Plaintiff's direct negligence claims, arguing that negligent hiring and negligent entrustment were unnecessary, superfluous, and contrary to public policy because Van Eaton had already admitted to being Mize's employer for purposes of vicarious liability. The district court dismissed the negligent hiring claim but allowed the negligent entrustment claim to proceed. Upon consideration, the Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded an employer's liability for negligently entrusting a vehicle to an unfit employee was a separate and distinct theory of liability from that of an employer's liability under the respondeat superior doctrine. An employer's stipulation that an accident occurred during the course and scope of employment does not, as a matter of law, bar a negligent entrustment claim. View "Fox v. Mize" on Justia Law

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The petitioner-employer sought review of the Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims which upheld a trial court's determination that respondent-employee Jennifer Hodge suffered a change of condition for the worse to her left leg/knee when she was injured in a medical facility where she was receiving medical treatment to a previously adjudicated body part. The employer urged there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court's decision because: (1) any injury arose from an intervening negligent act; and (2) there was no medical evidence to support a worsening of condition to employee's left leg/knee. The three-judge panel disagreed with Employer and affirmed the trial court. Employer then filed a Petition for Review and the Court of Civil Appeals vacated the decision of the three-judge panel. Hodge filed a Petition for Certiorari to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Granting review, the Supreme Court found competent evidence to support the decisions from the trial court and the three-judge panel. Accordingly, the Court vacated the Court of Civil Appeals and affirmed the Workers' Compensation Court. View "City of Tulsa v. Hodge" on Justia Law

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The question before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in this case centered on whether evidence in the underlying workers compensation proceeding should have been excluded by the administrative law judge, as well as the constitutionality of several provisions of the Administrative Workers Compensation Act (AWCA) that required mandatory use of the Sixth Edition of the American Medical Association's Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (AMA Guides, Sixth Edition) to evaluate permanent partial disability (PPD). Petitioner Robert Hill was a paramedic working for Respondent American Medical Response (Employer), when he injured his right shoulder while lifting a person of large body habitus. Hill underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. After post-operative physical therapy, Hill was released at maximum medical improvement and given permanent restrictions. Employer admitted the injury and benefits were provided pursuant to the provisions of the AWCA. Employer was apparently unable to accommodate Hill's permanent restrictions, and so Hill was no longer employed with American Medical Response. Per Hill's testimony, he found work with a new employer and made approximately 25% less per year. Hill submitted a report by Dr. Stephen Wilson, who opined that Hill sustained 8% whole person impairment pursuant to the AMA Guides, Sixth Edition, and 31.8% impairment pursuant to the AMA Guides, Fifth Edition. Dr. Wilson did not express an opinion as to which rating more accurately described Hill's PPD. Employer's evaluating physician, Dr. William Gillock, asserted in his own report that Hill sustained 4.2% whole person impairment pursuant to the AMA guides, Sixth Edition. The Supreme Court determined the administrative law judge did not err by admitting the challenged evidence. Furthermore, the Court determined the mandatory use of the AMA Guides, Sixth Edition, for assessing impairment for non-scheduled members did not violate the Constitution. View "Hill v. American Medical Response" on Justia Law

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Daniel Phillips was convicted of multiple counts of indecent or lewd acts with children under the age of sixteen. The mother of the children sued Phillips, alleging various torts arising out of his crimes. The mother moved for partial summary judgment in the case, arguing that Phillips's conviction for the crimes established his liability for the torts. In response, Phillips argued that because his conviction was the product of an Alford plea--where a defendant admitted there was sufficient evidence to support a conviction, but nonetheless insisted that he did not commit the crimes--his conviction could not preclude him from disputing liability in the civil case. The district court agreed with the mother, granting partial summary adjudication in her favor on the issue of liability. Phillips asked the district court to certify that decision for immediate review. The district court did so, and Phillips timely petitioned the Oklahoma Supreme Court for certiorari. The Court granted the petition and, finding no reversible error in the district court's decision, affirmed. View "Martin v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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The estate of a driver killed in a vehicle/train collision sued a railroad company in a wrongful death action. The District Court entered judgment on the jury verdict finding the driver and railroad negligent and apportioned fault. The railroad, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad Company (BNSF) appealed, and also appealed the post-trial order overruling its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, motion for a new trial. In substance, BNSF contended that federal law preempted the driver's claims, challenged the fairness of the trial proceedings and challenged the amount of damages awarded. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of the driver's estate. View "Nye v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Octavio Pina was employed as a pipeline installer by American Piping Inspection, Inc. At the time of his injury, he worked at an oilrig site approximately 130 miles away from his home. Petitioner traveled weekly to Employer's drilling site; he would work 6 days then return home on the weekend. Employer provided a daily per diem payment for lodging and meals incurred. Employer used Petitioner's truck to haul work related equipment and materials and paid him $50 per day for the use of his truck. At the time of Petitioner's injury, it was the practice of Employer to pay for the gas necessary to refuel Petitioner's truck each morning before traveling to the rig site. Petitioner was required to stop at the Employer-designated gas station at the time set by the supervisor. Employer also agreed to purchase ice and water each day for the entire crew, but only if they stopped at the designated gas station at the time specified by Employer. Employer had been paying for Petitioner's gasoline for three months prior to his injury. On the morning of September 22, 2014, Petitioner met his supervisor at the designated gas station to get ice, water and gasoline. The supervisor agreed that "Claimant was reporting to work that morning when he made it to the gas station." On his way to the worksite, Petitioner had a collision and sustained serious injuries. Emergency medical care was given and Petitioner was transported via helicopter for medical treatment. Petitioner never arrived at the drilling site that morning. Although Petitioner did not sign the attendance sheet at the rig site that morning, Employer paid him for a full day of work. Petitioner filed a claim for benefits under the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act (AWCA). Employer denied the claim was compensable within the meaning of the AWCA on the following grounds: (1) Petitioner was not performing employment services at the time of injury; and (2) the injury did not occur in the course and scope of employment. The administrative law judge determined Petitioner's injury did not occur in the course and scope of employment within the meaning of the AWCA and denied his claim. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed, finding Petitioner was in the course and scope of his employment as the term was defined in 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sec 2 (13) because his actions at the time of injury were related to and in furtherance of the business of the employer. View "Pina v. American Piping Inspection" on Justia Law

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James David Lind, Sr. (Decedent) was an employee of Defendant-appellee Barnes Tag Agency Inc. (BTA). Decedent was hired in 2010, to perform maintenance work on property owned individually by Defendant Jim T. Roy Barnes (Barnes), the sole stockholder of BTA. On February 21, 2010, there was an explosion on the property while Decedent was present, resulting in a fire. Descendent sustained severe injuries that led to his death on February 26, 2010. Plaintiff-appellant, the administrator Lind’s estate filed suit against BTA and the sole stockholder, alleging negligence. The defendants moved for summary judgment arguing they possessed immunity from suit pursuant to the provisions of the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Act. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The administrator appealed, arguing the trial court erred by determining that Jim T. Roy Barnes, as the individual owner of the property, was immune from suit. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The question presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s review in this case was whether the sole shareholder of a corporation, who individually owned the property where an employee of the corporation sustained fatal injuries, was immune from suit for common-law negligence in district court under the provisions of the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Act. The Supreme Court held in the negative: a corporation and its sole owner and shareholder are separate entities and the immunity of the workers' compensation laws that shields the corporation from tort liability to employees does not extend to the owner of the corporation as a third-party landowner. View "Lind v. Barnes Tag Agency" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit certified a question of Oklahoma law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Plaintiff-Appellant Perry Odom was an employee of Penske Logistics, LLC. Penske Logistics, LLC was a wholly owned subsidiary of Defendant-Appellee Penske Truck Leasing Co. (PTLC). After a trailer owned by PTLC fell on Odom and injured him, he filed a claim against his employer, Penske Logistics, LLC, pursuant to the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act (AWCA). However, plaintiff and his wife Carolyn (collectively, the Odoms) also filed a lawsuit against PTLC in federal district court, alleging PTLC's tortious negligence caused Perry Odom's injury. The federal appellate court asked whether under Oklahoma’s dual-capacity doctrine, an employer who was generally immune from tort liability could become liable to its employee as a third-party tortfeasor, if it occupies, in addition to its capacity as an employer, a second capacity that confers obligations independent of those imposed on it as an employer. The Court asked what was the effect of Oklahoma's Administrative Workers' Compensation Act (AWCA) on the dual-capacity doctrine, and whether the AWCA abrogated the dual-capacity doctrine as to an employer's stockholder. The Oklahoma Court found the AWCA abrogated the dual-capacity doctrine with regards to employers. Title 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 § 5(A) did not bar an employee from bringing a cause of action in tort against a stockholder of their employer for independent tortious acts when the stockholder is not acting in the role of employer. View "Odom v. Penske Truck Leasing Co." on Justia Law

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In 2013, Frank Benedetti, an employee of Schlumberger Technology Corporation, was working on an oil rig near El Reno, Oklahoma, when he slipped on an icy platform and fell more than thirty feet down a stairwell. Benedetti sued Cimarex Energy Company, the owner and operator of the well site, and Cactus Drilling Company, the owner and operator of the oil rig, for negligence. Cimarex moved to dismiss pursuant to 85 O.S. 2011 section 302(H), which provided that "any operator or owner of an oil or gas well . . . shall be deemed to be an intermediate or principal employer" for purposes of extending immunity from civil liability. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, and Benedetti appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. Pursuant to the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in Strickland v. Stephens Production Co., 2018 OK 6, ___ P.3d ___, the Supreme Court concluded section 302(H) of Title 85 was an impermissible and unconstitutional special law under Art. 5, section 59 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Subsection (H) was severed from the remainder of that provision. View "Benedetti v. Cimarex Energy Co." on Justia Law