WC Case Law Update - Senate Bills

The Oklahoma Legislature signed two bills effecting Workers’ Compensation. Senate Bill 1456 (effective July 1, 2024) establishes that The Court of Civil Appeals will establish one of its four divisions of three judges as the Court of Existing Claims (CEC) Division of the Court of Civil Appeals (COCA). The division will replace the CEC Court En Banc that has served for many years as the first line of appeal from a decision by a CEC trial judge in regard to claims for injuries that occurred before February 1, 2014.

The law terminates the current CEC Judge and all support positions. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will appoint one judge from a list of active retired judges (that is a legal term) to act as a trial judge, on a rotating basis, to be paid per diem and travel expenses. The CEC trial judge may ask the Chair of the Workers' Compensation Commission to assign an administrative law judge or other hearing officer to make preliminary inquiry in a claim. If the ALJ makes a recommendation on an issue, a party may accept the recommendation or request a de novo hearing before the CEC trial judge. In either event, ONLY the CEC judge may issue a final order. The CEC trial judge has discretion to hold hearings remotely.

The new Three-Judge Panel shall be appointed to serve as the Court of Existing Claims (CEC) Division of the Court of Civil Appeals. As of July 1, 2024, the Panel shall consist of:

  • Robert (Bobby) Bell, Presiding Judge
  • Jane P. Wiseman, Judge
  • Thomas E. Prince, Judge
  • Stacie Hixon, Judge (Alternate)

This Panel shall serve through December 31, 2024.

Senate Bill 1457 (effective January 1, 2025) Creates an exception to the requirement that a compensable mental injury be accompanied by a physical injury for FIRST RESPONDERS, who suffer from PTSD while responding to an emergency. A First Responder is defined as a volunteer firefighter and a full-time emergency medical technician, law enforcement officer, or firefighter employed by a city, county, or the state. Even if an EMT worked for a hospital or ambulance authority operated by a trust, it appears he or she would be covered if he or she holds an EMT or paramedic license issued by the State Department of Health.

The PTSD must be diagnosed by a psychiatrist or psychologist using criteria of the latest issue of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

If the treating physician finds a claimant not able to perform his or her job or light duty offered by the employer, the claimant is entitled to draw the GREATER of any weekly benefit provided for in a collective bargaining agreement or workers' compensation TTD up to 52 weeks.

If after maximum medical recovery is reached, a claimant may be entitled to Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) benefits up to $50,000. However, PPD is not owed if the claimant is eligible to receive disability retirement through his or her retirement system.

The employer is responsible for reasonable and necessary medical care for only one year. Prescription medicine is capped at $10,000. While a claimant is TTD, the employer must continue to pay existing health insurance premiums.

The definition of PTSD covered by this legislation is extremely limited. It only applies to an emergency in which the claimant is confronted with an event that involves actual or threatened death and serious injury and the response involved "fear, helplessness, or horror."  The traumatic event must be re-experienced in intrusive recollections or recurrent dreams or intense psychological distress at exposure to triggers of the traumatic event. The claimant must persistently avoid stimuli associated with the trauma. All disturbances must last more than one month for the law to apply. The disturbance must cause "clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of function."

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