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In a 6-3 decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court on 4/18/23, said the Legislature intended for injured workers to have at least one year from the date of an injury in which to file a workers' compensation claim before the Workers' Compensation Commission. The case is Schumberger Technology Corp. v. Paredes, 2023 OK 42. The case involves an un-represented claimant that later hires an attorney.
The Supreme Court was asked to interpret 85A O.S. Sec. 69, in pertinent part:
"A claim...shall be barred unless it is filed...within one (1) year from the date of injury or, if the employee has received benefits under this title for injury, six (6) months from the date of the last issuance of benefits."
Justice Gurich, writing for the majority, said the Legislature had created a method to extend payment of benefits beyond an arbitrary SOL since at least 1941. She noted that each time amendments were made to the workers' compensation law, the Legislature continued to provide for a way to extend benefits for injured workers.
Justice Gurich wrote, "that the SOL is "not an absolute time bar." The burden is on the employer to take affirmative action, or "arguably, even the one-year SOL will be extended." There must not only be an objection based upon the running of the SOL, but ALSO A HEARING. The opinion says otherwise the statute would be meaningless if the Commission did not have the discretion to adjust the statute of limitations based on the circumstances presented.
The holding is that an injured worker in Oklahoma has at least one year from the date of an injury in which to file his or her claim. The six-month provision of Sec. 69 only extends the SOL in cases in which the employer admits the injury and pays benefits. If a badly injured worker is off four years when treatment is terminated, he or she has six months from that date to file a claim before the Commission.
In the opinion, Justice Gurich also quoted comments by Commissioner Biggs during oral argument in this case. He told defense counsel, "My argument is simple, the system works when people know when deadlines are, when the SOL starts...if they didn't have notice of when your company paid, how do they know when the clock starts?"
The Court has created a new requirement that was not present previously. The opinion can interpreted to require a specific date which the SOL runs and the 6-month Statute of Repose will not begin to run until the date the claimant is informed of the specific date. An employer can no longer wait-out the SOL to assert the affirmative defense. The Court is requiring specific notice to an un-represented claimant before a SOL defense can be asserted.