Oklahoma Supreme Court Strikes Provision in Workers’ Compensation Law

Posted by: Chris

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma has struck down a provision in Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation law that denied death benefits to the mother or other next of kin of an unmarried, childless decedent with no legal guardian dependents.

In Whipple v. Phillips and Sons Trucking, LLC, the mother of a 23-year-old man killed in a work accident sued her son’s employer under Oklahoma’s wrongful death statute. The son was unmarried and had no dependents. The trial court ruled that the mother’s sole remedy was in the state’s workers’ compensation system and granted partial summary judgment for the employer.

However, under current Oklahoma workers’ compensation law, only a spouse, child, or legal guardian dependent is allowed to receive death benefits. On September 21, 2020, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma reversed the trial court’s ruling, finding 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...” -- specifically, the state’s wrongful death statute and the Oklahoma Constitution, which prohibits the abrogation of the right to recover damages for injuries resulting in death.

The state’s high court noted that although the state legislature could limit the right to recover for injuries that resulted in death, it could not eliminate that right entirely. Therefore, the court struck down as unconstitutional the statutory limitation on death benefits recovery solely by a spouse, child, or legal guardian dependent.

“This is an easy fix for the Legislature,” the court’s opinion stated. “All it needs to do to render 85A O.S. 2014 §47 enforceable and constitutional is to amend it to include the statutory heirs just as it did before the 2014 amendments.”

Has your workers’ compensation claim been denied? If so, seek legal representation from Armstrong & Vaught, P.L.C. at once. Our attorneys will work tirelessly to appeal the decision and secure the workers’ compensation benefits you are entitled to by law. Call us now at 918-582-2500, toll-free at (800) 722-8880, or contact us online for a free consultation with a skilled attorney.