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Oklahoma Supreme Court: You Can't Lose Workers' Compensation Benefits for Missing a Doctor's Appointment

Workers' compensation is a special category of personal injury claim in Oklahoma. Typically, an injured plaintiff must prove the defendant was negligent in order to receive damages. But with workers' compensation, an employer is expected to provide benefits upon receiving notice of a covered employee's job-related injury, without regard to fault. 

Justices Throw Out 2014 Legislative Amendment

As the Oklahoma Supreme Court explained in a recent decision, workers' compensation represents a "Grand Bargain" designed to protect injured workers while limiting an employer's potential liability for occupational accidents. Because workers' compensation is the "exclusive" legal remedy for on-the-job accidents, it is essential that judges-and even state legislators-do not arbitrarily deprive an injured employee of benefits. In fact, the state Supreme Court's decision related to just such a misguided legislative restriction.

Specifically, the Court struck down a 2014 legislative amendment to Oklahoma's workers' compensation law that said an employee who missed "two more scheduled appointments for treatment" automatically forfeits all remaining benefits. The plaintiff in this case worked for a well-known Oklahoma retailer. He injured his wrist and knee while on the job. But after he missed multiple medical employments, the employer moved to terminate benefits.

The plaintiff ultimately appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing the forfeiture rule violated Oklahoma's Constitution. By a 5-3 vote, the justices agreed. Article II, Section 6, of the state constitution guarantees that every person in the state a "right-to-a-remedy for every wrong and every injury." Because the forfeiture provision effectively abolishes that right, the Court said it was unconstitutional. Indeed, workers' compensation rights vest at the moment the employee is injured, the Court explained and "taking away an employee's vested benefits because of missed appointments - an action based on fault of the employee - is invalid in a no-fault system."

That said, the Court held that another provision of workers' compensation law does apply to this situation. Namely, Section 50 of the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act allows a physician to charge the employer (or its insurance company) a fee for a missed appointment, and for the employer in turn to demand "reimbursement" from the employee. Given the Court's invalidation of the forfeiture rule, the justices said Section 50 now "is now the controlling provision concerning missed physician appointments."

Need Help With a Tulsa Workers' Compensation Claim?

The Supreme Court's decision is good news for injured workers who are forced to miss an occasional doctor's appointment due to unforeseen circumstances. If your employer is attempting to cut off your workers' compensation benefits without just cause, you should speak with a qualified Oklahoma personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the Tulsa offices of Frasier, Frasier & Hickman LLP, at 918-779-3658 today to schedule a consultation.

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