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Oklahoma Supreme Court Rules in favor of Injured Workers

Posted by Christine Foster on October 14, 2016

Earlier this month, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the Opt Out provision of Oklahoma’s State workers’ compensation law, ruling in favor of injured workers. The 2013 legislation gave qualified employers the option to create treatment plans outside of the regular workers’ compensation system.

The case involved Johnie Yvonne Vasquez, a department store employee who filed a claim for an injury to her neck and shoulder she sustained at work in 2014. Her employer, which had opted out of the state system and written their own plan, denied her claim. Vasquez sued and the Oklahoma Worker’s Compensation Commission agreed in a decision in February that the State
cannot allow employers to opt out of the traditional workers’ compensation plans. The case went on to the Oklahoma Supreme Court which determined Oklahoma’s “Opt Out Act” to be unconstitutional.

The ruling is the latest in a series of state Supreme Court decisions that have been a blow to attempts to rewrite workers’ comp laws. States such as Texas, Tennessee, Illinois, Wisconsin, South Carolina, California, Georgia, New York, and West Virginia had all either drafted legislation or passed new rules that typically have more restrictions and result in lower benefits than current workers’ comp laws. These efforts have been led by several of the nation’s largest retail companies, including Lowe’s
and Walmart. The Oklahoma decision leaves Texas as the only state where employers can opt out of workers’ comp insurance.

“The concept driving legislation like the Opt Out Act has been a concern for injured workers’ representatives since its inception.  A tremendous debt of gratitude is owed to the attorneys that worked so tirelessly to overturn this unconstitutional law, and to the Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG - https://www.wilg.org/) for its continued lobbying efforts to ensure that our lawmakers understand the important role workers’ compensation coverage plays in the health and wellness of our labor market.”

                Tara Jayne Reck, Esq.

The justices found in a 7-2 ruling that the opt out plans were unconstitutional because they “create impermissible, unequal, disparate treatment” of injured workers. 

Vasquez’s case will now go back to Oklahoma’s workers’ comp commission to determine what benefits she should receive under the state plan. 

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