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Workers comp claim denied because injury took place before state reforms

Posted On: Dec. 7, 2012 12:00 AM CST

Workers comp claim denied because injury took place before state reforms

An Oklahoma worker's injury occurred before state workers compensation reforms that require a higher burden of proof in case reviews were put in place, allowing an employer to deny part of his workers comp claim, the Oklahoma Supreme Court said this week.

Charles Prince hurt his right foot in November 2008 while working for Brake Rebuilders & Friction Products Inc., court records show. In 2009, Mr. Prince sought benefits for a lower-back injury that he claimed was connected to his compensable foot injury, but Oklahoma's workers comp court denied that request.

After two appeals, Oklahoma's Court of Civil Appeals vacated the denial of Mr. Prince's lower back claim, court records show. In its decision, the appellate court said that the “clear weight of the evidence” in Mr. Prince's case showed that he suffered a “work-related cumulative back injury.”

Oklahoma enacted workers comp reforms in 2011 that apply a “clear weight of the evidence” standard in reviewing workers comp cases. That is considered to be more rigorous than the “any competent evidence” standard that was used for Oklahoma workers comp cases prior to the recent reforms.

In a unanimous ruling Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court vacated the appellate court's decision. It said the lower court should have used the “any competent evidence” standard because Mr. Prince's injuries occurred prior to 2010.

“In the present case, the denial of the award for claimant's lower-back was supported by competent evidence, the standard of review which is applicable to this case," the ruling said.

In its decision, the state Supreme Court cited its Nov. 20 opinion in Williams Cos. Inc. v. Kristy Dunkelgod et al. That case said Oklahoma courts are to apply the workers comp statute that was in effect at the time that a claimant was injured.

The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the appellate court.