Recently, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled against a provision that allowed companies to opt-out of the state’s workers’ compensation requirements. Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano partner Sam Pond calls the ruling “a critical victory in the national fight to protect injured workers’ rights.”
The 2013 provision known as the Opt-Out Act was rejected because it treats people differently depending upon where they are employed. The Oklahoma high court found that the Opt-Out Act was unconstitutional, denied equal protection to the state’s workers, and denied injured workers the right of access to the court system.
Justice Joseph Watt wrote that the law had given employers “the authority to single out their injured employees for inequitable treatment.”
More than 60 companies had opted-out of the state plan and devised their own plan for their employees. As a result, they were no longer bound by traditional workers’ compensation law and the way it defines things like covered injuries, medical management, dispute resolution, funding, notices, and penalties.
The case that led to the ruling was that of Jonnie Vasquez, a former Dillard’s department store employee who injured her neck and shoulder as she lifted shoeboxes at work in September 2014. She filed for workers’ compensation but Dillard’s, an opt-out company, denied her claim because she had a pre-existing injury. Had Vasquez been covered under traditional state workers’ compensation, her claim would have been valid because pre-existing injuries are covered when aggravated on the job.
The plaintiff’s attorney Bob Burke said of the verdict, “Opt-Out is the biggest attack on the American worker in my 36 years of representing injured workers… [This] is a great day for the working men and women of Oklahoma.”
At Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano, we’re fighting every day to make sure that grossly unfair legislation like the Opt-Out Act never becomes a reality in Pennsylvania. Partner Sam Pond comments, “Coverage opt-outs, along with other attacks such as evidence based medicine, are part of the ongoing war being waged on the rights of injured workers… We can only hope that the ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court is a trend in support of humanity that will continue to be realized in other states.”
To learn more about the Oklahoma Supreme Court Opt-Out ruling, click here.