When states began to pass workers’ compensation laws at the turn of the 20th century, public figures like President Theodore Roosevelt touted them as “A Grand Bargain.” Under the supposed bargain, employees waived their right to sue employers for workplace injuries in exchange for readily-available compensation for medical expenses and other direct expenses.
Since that time, many states have begun to rethink the “grand bargain,” adding provisions that protect workers from egregious, negligent or willfully dangerous acts on the part of employers. Unfortunately, Oklahoma is not one of those states, although the wording of the law does allow for legal action “in the case of an intentional tort, or where the employer has failed to secure the payment of compensation for the injured employee.” [2012 O.S. §85-302.]
Yet, employees still stand a chance at receiving due compensation for injuries that workers’ comp woefully underpays for. Recent rulings show the willingness of judges to amend wrongdoings, and other provisions exist for injury torts not directly related to employment. Read on to find out more about these scenarios and how they may allow you to claim your rightful compensation.
Exceptions for Non-Employers
Oklahoma, like many other states, considers workers’ compensation an “exclusive remedy” for injuries directly related to employment situations. However, not every workplace injury is directly related to an employer-employee relationship.
For example, third-parties that cause an injury may be considered liable and can potentially be sued under certain circumstances. So, if a sloppy ice vendor left a slippery trail across your workplace and caused you to injure your spine, you could potentially file a lawsuit against them since they are not your employer.
Likewise, equipment manufacturers could be held liable under product liability. If a piece of equipment like a front-end loader malfunctioned catastrophically and injured you, you could potentially sue the manufacturer or the contract service provider of the machine for your injuries. These torts are separate from workers’ comp claims, so always evaluate your best options before filing a claim with your employer if you think someone else may be held liable.
Talk to an Oklahoma City Workers’ Comp Attorney
Looking beyond third-party torts, your actual employer could be held liable for your injuries under certain circumstances. Oklahoma law provides the example of an “intentional tort,” or an employer who has — legitimately or illegitimately — opted out of workers’ comp coverage.
In addition to these situations, some courts have set precedent by recognizing the worker’s right to sue for egregious actions or ones that could be considered preventable by any measure. For example, a district judge in Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma ruled in January that “foreseeable” injuries are exempt from the exclusive remedy requirement of workers’ comp. Another ruling, this one in the 11th Circuit Court, found that the exclusive remedy provision is unconstitutional.
Both rulings are unprecedented and likely to face appeal, but they illustrate that judges recognize when a situation goes above and beyond the norms of typical workers’ comp claims. Cases carry particular weight when an employer has documented violations of workers laws against them, such as OSHA violations.
The only difficulty with these cases is that they are extremely complex and require extensive depth of legal knowledge and argumentative skill. Therefore, you may want to strongly consider hiring an Oklahoma City workers’ comp attorney in order to effectively argue for your rights to justice and fair compensation.