Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Workers' Comp Suit in Oklahoma Causes Court Confusion

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Workers' Comp Suit in Oklahoma Causes Court Confusion

Article excerpt

Nancy Summers caused the Oklahoma Supreme Court to revisit one of its most contentious cases and issue a unified judgment to clarify the law regarding workers' compensation insurers that fail to pay what's due.

Summers brought a lawsuit in 2007, charging that Zurich American Insurance Co., her employer's workers' compensation insurer, had in bad faith failed to pay for treatment ordered by the court for injuries she sustained on the job in 2004.

Summers based her lawsuit on the Oklahoma Supreme Court's 2006 ruling in Sizemore v. Continental Cas. Co., which determined that a workers' compensation insurer may be sued for bad faith even though the state's workers' compensation system is intended to provide an exclusive remedy for workers' compensation issues. Instead of clarifying the court's position, the Sizemore ruling became a cause for more confusion.

Sizemore had been decided by the Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote that produced two dissenting opinions and a concurring opinion in addition to the court's official ruling. That ruling appears to contradict the order the same court issued for the case.

The conclusion of the ruling states that an insurer may be sued for bad faith if the claimant has first sought enforcement of the award in district court without success. Several paragraphs below the conclusion, however, the order issued for the case states that the opinion "clearly provides for a claimant to pursue a bad-faith lawsuit regardless of whether or not they have sought enforcement in district court."

The Court of Civil Appeals was perplexed regarding how to interpret the ruling.

"What is clear to the objective reader is that this particular order ... creates confusion at best, and at worst is directly contrary to" the opinion, writes the appeals court. "It gratuitously states the opinion clearly provides something that it clearly does not provide. …

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