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The Oklahoma Supreme Court and Court of Civil Appeals deliver opinions that are published and unpublished. In order to help you keep up on what the Oklahoma courts are deciding, here are case briefs from recent opinions.

Parties Wishing to Settle During Appellate Process Must Follow Appropriate Procedures

CEJA Corp. v. Federal Insurance Co., 2012 OK 56

The Supreme Court granted certiorari before Petitioner and Respondent both sought for the withdrawal or vacation of the decision of the Court of Civil Appeals to “vacate in part” an order of the three-judge panel of the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court.

The issue revolves around the proper procedure for a settlement to dismiss actions on appeal. The Court, using Workers’ Compensation and Supreme Court rules and case law, indicate the following steps required for a case on appeal to be dismissed in favor of the parties’ settlement:

1. The settlement must be approved by the Workers’ Compensation Court;

2. Parties should may file a joint motion in the Supreme Court for an order staying proceedings for a period specified in the motion, during which time the Workers’ Compensation Court should approve or disapprove the settlement;

3. Parties need not seek leave from the Supreme Court to complete settlement because an agreed settlement may be approved by the Workers’ Compensation Court while pending in the Supreme Court;

4. The Workers’ Compensation Court is responsible for filing in the Supreme Court a copy of the approved settlement order, bearing the Supreme Court number; and

5. That filing shall constitute a dismissal of the pending review without further order from the Supreme Court.

Because the ruling addressed a first impression issue, the Court allowed the parties to settle, if so desired, by following the above-outlined procedure. The Court denied the parties’ requests to withdraw or vacate the opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals.

“Permanent Anatomical Abnormality” for Determinations of Permanent Disability

 American Residential v. Corley, 2011 OK CIV APP 110

The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals has defined “permanent anatomical abnormality” as any anatomical abnormality capable of rating as a permanent impairment under the AMA guides, even in the case of a soft-tissue injury.
Claimant had sustained injuries to the back, neck, ankles and knees. The Workers’ Compensation Court En Banc modified an order of the trial judge to find Claimant sustained a 10 percent PPD to the right foot. On appeal, Respondent argued Claimant had not proved a permanent anatomical abnormality, pursuant to 85 O.S. Supp. 2007 §22(3)(d) and was therefore not entitled to the award.

While emphasizing that permanent anatomical abnormality must be determined by “credible” and “objective medical evidence,” and must meet the criteria of Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and all U.S. Supreme Court case law, the COCA noted the treating physician found a loss of range of motion in the right ankle and rated the loss of motion according to the AMA Guides. “Because the loss of range of motion constitutes a ratable permanent impairment under the AMA Guides,” the Court wrote, “[the report of Claimant’s physician] constitutes competent, objective medical evidence of the existence of a permanent anatomical abnormality resulting from the soft tissue injury.”

In short, if the impairment is ratable under the AMA Guides and is supported by credible and objective evidence, it will be considered a “permanent anatomical abnormality” and supportive of a PPD award for a soft tissue injury. Note the Court of Civil Appeals opinion it does not carry the force of law.

Appeals Court Finds Joint Petition Settlement Did Not Preclude Filing of a Later Claim

Curwood, Inc. v. Camp,  2011 OK CIV APP 114

A claimant alleging injuries to her arms, shoulders and neck overcame a res judicata defense to win an employer’s appeal in the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals after a full settlement for her hands had been paid.
An unrepresented Claimant entered into a final settlement a single event injury to her hands and was paid an award of PPD. She later filed a claim alleging cumulative trauma to her arms, shoulders and neck occurring before the previous settlement and received an award of PPD. Respondent appealed alleging the action was precluded by the doctrine of res judicata; that is to say the issues regarding her injuries had already been addressed and closed by way of a joint petition settlement concerning a single-event injury to her hands.

The COCA found, “A review of the transcript of the hearing on the joint petition settlement reveals her statements were in response to questions which referred only to her hands. It reflects she understood the settlement was to her hands only.” The Court found the claim was not time barred and sustained the award.

The lesson is clear. To protect the interests of the respondent and carrier, before resolving any claim, appropriate inquiry must be made into any allegations of other injuries or complaints of any kind.


Personal Mission:
Rhoades v. Homeland Stores, Inc.
The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals sustained Workers’ Compensation Court Judge Bob Lake Grove’s determination that an accidental personal injury occurring while walking to a designated smoking area was not compensable because Claimant was in furtherance of a personal mission, smoking. The injury did not rise out of and in the course of her employment.

City of Lawton v. Meador
Claimant underwent surgery to repair a ruptured biceps tendon, and two incisions were used for the operation, leaving one directly over Claimant’s elbow and one below Claimant’s elbow. Thetrial court judge, Michael Harkey, awarded disability benefits for the injury to the right arm and also disfigurement to the right forearm. The award was upheld by the Three-Judge Panel and sustained by the Court of Civil Appeals, indicating that the disfigurement award for the scar on the forearm or “hand” was a separate and independent item of compensation that was not included in the permanent partial disability award for Claimant’s “arm” injury.

Pryor v. Great Plains Regional Medical Center
Claimant appealed to the Court of Civil Appeals seeking the court to overturn an “Order to Vacate” and an “Order Denying Compensability” from Bob Lake Grove, Trial Judge, both filed on Nov. 30, 2010. The effect of the orders was to replace an order filed on November 2, 2010. Claimant argued that because the Order to Vacate and Second Order were not entered and sent to the parties within 20 days of the First Order, then the Second Order was improper, rendering the First Order binding. Respondent argued the Second Order was simply to correct a facially apparent clerical error made on the First Order. The Court of Civil Appeals agreed, sustaining the order of the trial court.

UPS, Inc. v. Dickerson
The Court of Civil Appeals vacated and remanded an order of the Three-Judge Panel of the Workers’ Compensation Court because of ambiguity and confusion in the Panel’s intent regarding the major cause determination. Without an understanding of the Panel’s intent regarding major cause, the Panel could not evaluate the Panel’s decision.

Independent Medical Examiners:
Guaranteed Auto Credit & Auto Finance, Inc. v. Jackson
The employer sought review of an order from Workers’ Compensation Court Judge John Michael McCormick requiring Claimant to submit to an examination by an Independent Medical Examiner at Employer’s expense. The Court of Civil Appeals determined the appeal to be premature, as it was not a reviewable order, and the appeal was dismissed.

Independent Contractors:
Floyd v. T&T Construction
The Court of Civil Appeals sustained an order of the Workers’ Compensation Court’s Three-Judge Panel which affirmed the trial court’s denial of compensation for lack of jurisdiction. The lower courts determined the claimant to be an independent contractor not privy to the workers’ compensation system. The Court of Civil Appeals agreed, sustaining the order.

Nomac Drilling, LLC, and Chesapeake Energy Corporation v. Mowdy
The employer sought review from the Court of Civil Appeals of an award of benefits to an employee who was bitten by a spider while living at a job site in an employer-provided mobile home. The Court of Civil Appeals determined that the claimant had failed to prove he sustained a compensable work-related injury, and the matter was vacated and remanded with directions for the Three-Judge Panel to enter an order meeting the law’s standards for a judicially acceptable opinion.