Oklahoma Supreme Court Makes Major Ruling on Disability Benefits
This April the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a ruling that has major implications for anyone who receives workers compensation or social security disability benefits.
Essentially, injured workers who eventually returned to work were being denied permanent partial disability benefits. Not only did this punish workers who managed to reenter the workplace, but it created a subclass of disability benefits recipients. Previously, these workers had little choice but to find a workers compensation lawyer for help, which is difficult when your payments have been denied. But in Maxwell vs. Sprint PCS, the state’s highest court put an end to this practice, and many Oklahoma attorneys and social security disability lawyers say it could be a sign of things to come.
A woman who injured her knee in 2014 while working for Sprint PCS had her benefits deferred from the time she returned to work. But this April, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to reverse a lower court’s decision.
“The speculation is that we are not at the end of those decisions, and Oklahoma may be readdressing a lot of issues that they thought they had addressed in 2013,” said Trey Gillespie with the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.
In March, the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission similarly ruled that a new state law allowing employers to opt out of the state’s workers compensation benefits system was simply unconstitutional. The Oklahoma Supreme Court will soon hear that appeal as well.
Many politicians and employers in Oklahoma are skeptical of public assistance programs, especially if they cost the private sector and taxpayers money. But because just one in four Americans has enough savings to cover them for just six months in case of emergency, disability benefits like workers compensation provide a crucial safety net for countless workers.
And according to the most recent data, 917,000 workplace injuries resulted in employees missing work in 2013. Those were the lucky ones; 4,405 fatal work injuries took place in the same period.
So while employers may not be thrilled about the high court’s recent rulings in favor of Oklahoma disability benefits, it’s clear that many workers may stand to benefit from the ruling itself.