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Okla. Supreme Court rules in cumulative trauma case


OKLAHOMA CITY—A law requiring fired employees to file workers compensation claims within six months of their termination is unconstitutional, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court has ruled in a case involving cumulative trauma.

A trial court in Ponca Iron & Metal Inc. vs. Jackie Wilkinson originally found that Ms. Wilkinson was entitled to medical care and up to 52 weeks of temporary total disability benefits beginning in August 2006, court records show.

She was terminated in December 2005 from a job that included keyboard use and filing work.

A Workers’ Compensation Court upheld the trial court’s finding, but a Court of Civil Appeals reversed and remanded the case. On remand, the trial court denied the employer’s argument that a six-month statute of limitations applied to the case.

The trial court held that the statute of limitations in the law cited by the employer "unreasonably singles out employees who have been terminated and have sustained cumulative trauma injuries.”

The trial court also said the law is in direct conflict with a general, two-year statute of limitations for filing cumulative trauma injuries.

Oklahoma’s Legislature enacted the law cited by the employer to curtail fired workers from filing retaliatory workers comp claims, court records state.

In ruling on the case Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed that the state law is unconstitutional. It ruled that “the classification of injured employees on the basis of continued vs. terminated employment is a false and deficient classification of the larger class of injured employees because it creates preference for members in the continued employment group and results in unequal treatment for certain members of the terminated group.”

The temporary total disability benefits award was sustained.