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High court allows parking lot injury lawsuit to proceed

Posted On: Jun. 3, 2022 10:35 AM CST


The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Wednesday said a worker who was severely injured crossing a busy highway to get to work can sue his employer.

The state’s high court, in deciding Harwood v. Ardagh Group, ruled that workers comp is not an exclusive remedy for injuries that are defined in law as not arising from employment.

“We agree that if there is an actionable claim for negligence in this cause, it is covered by tort law and may be brought in the district court and that denial of workers’ compensation benefits because an employee was not ‘in the course’ of employment does not preclude such a negligence action,” the court said.

Jerry Harwood worked for Ardagh Group’s glass plant in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. The plant is on the west side of Oklahoma Highway 66, and workers were instructed to use two parking ears on the east side of the highway.

Mr. Harwood was hit by a car walking back to the parking lot after completing a shift in July 2016 and suffered severe injuries that left him permanently and totally disabled.

An administrative law judge determined that Mr. Harwood’s injuries weren’t compensable because he was injured on a public highway, that Ardagh did not own or control the location, and that the accident didn’t arise out of employment. The Workers’ Compensation Commission affirmed, as did the Court of Civil Appeals.

Mr. Harwood then sued his employer, claiming the company negligently failed to ensure adequate lighting and protection for employees using the crosswalk.

A trial court in April 2019 dismissed the suit, ruling Ardagh did not have a duty to make the crosswalk safer. An amended petition was also dismissed.

The majority opinion of the Supreme Court said an analysis of the state’s comp laws was critical to reaching their decision.

“Because we have held that the employer may have assumed the duty to provide a safer crosswalk for access to an employer-designated parking lot, the employee has pled a case for relief which is legally possible,” the court concluded. “The courthouse doors are open to the employee. Whether or not the actions of the employer were the proximate cause of the injury to the appellant is one for the jury to decide.”

Three justices dissented, saying they do not believe the employer had a duty to make the crosswalk safe.

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