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OKLAHOMA TRENDS 2020:
IS COVID-19 INFECTION COMPENSABLE UNDER OKLAHOMA LAW?
The Statute that defines “Occupational Disease” is Okla. Stat. Tit. 85A section 65. The definition is found at 65 (D)(1) and states, “…any disease that results in disability or death and arising out of and in the course and scope of the occupation or employment of the employee or naturally follows or unavoidably results from an injury…” “…A causal connection between the occupation or employment and the occupational disease shall be established by a preponderance of the evidence.”
Under 65 (D)(2) the Statute further states, “No compensation shall be payable for any contagious or infectious disease unless contracted in the course and scope of employment.” 65 (D)(3) states, “No compensation shall be payable for any ordinary disease of life to which the general public is exposed.”
It would be difficult for most employees to prove their exposure to Covid-19 occurred in the course and scope of their employment. A preponderance of the evidence standard would require the employee to establish the exact type of exposure with a person that has tested positive for the virus. They would also have to prove they had not been exposed anywhere other than thru their employment. The definition stated above creates a difficult hurdle for an employee to establish causation of Covid-19 thru their employment.
The only exception may be for first responders and healthcare professional. The employees that are battling the virus on the front lines may have a continuous exposure to the virus, and the Court is likely to grant the benefit of the doubt to that employee regarding the exposure. In Oklahoma, the Court gives a lot of deference to first responders, and we expect any cases involving police, firefighters, or healthcare professionals to be more likely to be found compensable depending on the facts of the claim.
Changes to TTD and PPD Rates
The rates awarded for injuries have increased to $898.63 for temporary total disability (“TTD”.) The maximum number of weeks for TTD was also increased, in most cases, from 104 weeks to 156 weeks. The rate for permanent partial disability (“PPD”) was increased to $350.00.
Termination of TTD and Claims for Employment Retaliation or Discrimination
Employers are allowed to terminate benefits if an injured worker abandons medical treatment for 60 days or refuses to comply with an Order from the Judge. Jurisdiction for retaliatory discharge claims had been in the Workers’ Compensation Commission since February 1, 2014, but the latest version of the Act moved jurisdiction for those cases back to the district courts.
New Limitations Periods
The Statute of Limitations was shortened to 1 year from the date of injury or 6 months from the date of last benefits paid, whichever is longer. A claim may be dismissed if after 6 months without payment of benefits, no request for a hearing has been filed. An injured worker now has 6 months following an Order for Permanent Partial Disability to file a request to reopen a claim based on a change of condition for the worse.
© Copyright 2020 by John Valentine, Lott and Valentine, PLLC. Reprinted with permission.
6909 N. Robinson, Suite A Oklahoma City, OK 73116 John@lottvalentine.com