What Could A Recent Oklahoma Supreme Court Case Mean For Your Workers' Comp Benefits?

If you were recently injured or made ill due to an on-the-job hazard, you may be recuperating at home while receiving medical costs or lost wages from your employer's workers' compensation insurer. However, in some cases, at least a portion of your workers' compensation benefits may be delayed indefinitely until you return to work -- only being paid out if you inform your employer you're unable to work again. A recent Oklahoma Supreme Court case challenged this practice as unconstitutional, and this ruling could have ripple effects among those currently receiving benefits. Read on to learn more about how this case's outcome could impact your right to receive workers' compensation payments.

What ruling was made regarding the constitutionality of Oklahoma's workers' comp laws? 

In Maxwell vs. Sprint PCS, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the practice of withholding employees' "permanent partial disability" (PPD) payments until they made the decision whether or not to return to work created an unconstitutional subclass of employees who were temporarily injured but eventually able to return to their jobs. Although these employees could usually receive non-PPD payments (like lost wages or medical expenses), in many cases they were deprived of PPD benefits and denied due process of law. Meanwhile, those who were injured so badly they quickly announced their inability to return to work were granted PPD benefits immediately.

This disparate treatment was enough for the high court to strike down this law.  Prior to this ruling, certain workers' comp insurers would put a hold on the issuance of PPD payments for employees who were not so severely injured they were unable to return to their old jobs -- even though these employees were otherwise entitled to PPD payments. 

How can this ruling affect your situation?

If you're currently receiving workers' comp benefits and haven't yet made the decision to return to work, you should be eligible to receive PPD benefits until you make this decision. A denial of these benefits, given the recent court ruling, could give you ample grounds to file a lawsuit against your employer's workers' comp insurer.  It's also likely that your employer's workers' comp insurer could change its internal policies to come into compliance with the state Supreme Court's ruling. If this type of restructuring does take place, your current benefits shouldn't be reduced or delayed. Again, a reduction or hold on your payments without notice is a denial of due process and grounds for a lawsuit. Contact a business, such as the Shaw Leslie Law Office, for more information.