Oklahoma, like most states, limits claims for work related injuries to workers compensation injuries. An injured worker receives compensation for his or her injuries through the workers compensation system, rather than through the courts. The amount of compensation awarded is determined, in part, by the amount the worker is paid, and the time the worker is off work due to the injury. In exchange for this limited liability of the employer, the employee is not required to show the employer was at fault for the injury. The workers’ compensation remedy is exclusive, meaning that it is the only way to get paid for work related injuries. In other words, an injured employee cannot sue the employer in regular court for injuries.
A recent case, however, has made an exception to workers’ compensation exclusivity. In Whipple v. Phillips and Sons Trucking, 2020 OK 75, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a mother could bring a wrongful death action (in district court), when there was no remedy in the workers compensation system. Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system allows only spouses, children, or legal guardians to recover for the wrongful death of an employee. The deceased employee was unmarried, without children or a legal guardian. In other words, there was no one who could recover for the work related death under the workers compensation law. Since the Oklahoma Constitution guarantees the right to recover damages for wrongful death, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the mother could bring an action in district court:
We hold that the right of a parent as the next of kin to bring a wrongful death action when the decedent is an adult, unmarried, and childless, is established in the law pursuant to 12 O.S. 2011 §1053 and by art. 23 §7 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Therefore, the Legislative attempt to limit recovery for wrongful death pursuant to 85A O.S. Supp. 2014 §47 to a spouse, child or legal guardian dependent on the decedent is a nullity. The Okla. Const art. 23 §7 prohibits the abrogation of the right to recover for injuries resulting in death. The Legislature may limit the recovery, but may not eliminate the right to recover.
Note that most CGL policies do not cover claims by or on behalf of employees. We will review your workers compensation coverage to ensure you have coverage for such claims.