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The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that denying workers compensation benefits to an injured worker because of missed medical appointments is unconstitutional.
In 2014, Brandon Gibby injured his wrist and knee when he fell from a pallet jack while working for Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. Mr. Gibby reported the injury and attempted to return to work but was unable to. Hobby Lobby admitted Mr. Gibby suffered a workplace injury and sent him for examination the day after the injury, according to court documents.
Mr. Gibby received medication and treatment for his wrist and returned to work a few months later. During this time, he continued to receive treatment for his injuries and underwent physical therapy for several weeks. Mr. Gibby received temporary total disability benefits from Feb. 21, 2014, through April 29, 2014, according to court records.
Mr. Gibby was scheduled to see a doctor for additional treatment but missed that and subsequent appointments. Mr. Gibby sought permanent partial disability, which Hobby Lobby denied because it said Mr. Gibby had missed two or more scheduled medical appointments without a valid excuse or notice, court records show.
At a trial, an administrative law judge applied the forfeiture provision of the Administrative Workers Compensation Act, based on missed medical appointments, and denied Mr. Gibby’s disability claim. The state Workers Compensation Commission affirmed the decision, and the Supreme Court retained the appeal to address constitutionality of the forfeiture provision.
In a 5-3 decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the forfeiture provision of the act is unconstitutional, saying it violates the adequate remedy provision.
“The forfeiture provision tips the delicate balance achieved in the Grand Bargain too far in favor of employers and therefore it fails to provide an adequate substitute remedy to injured workers as required by the constitutional mandate of Article II, section 6,” the court said in its ruling. “It ‘reinstates the concept of fault into a no-fault system and results in a forfeiture of benefits by the injured employee.’”
The court reversed and remanded the case to the commission for further proceedings.
Representatives for Hobby Lobby were not immediately available to comment.
While Oklahoma’s high court struck down a state law allowing employers to opt out of the workers compensation system, observers expect opt-out proponents to keep working to create alternatives to traditional workers comp plans nationwide.