Wells, Whipple And The Election Of Remedies

The following is a discussion of recent Oklahoma Supreme Court cases addressing workers’ compensation exclusivity and intentional torts, election of remedies and the constitutionality of the Oklahoma Legislature’s limitation of workers’ compensation death benefits to spouses, children and legal guardians of employees killed in work-related incidents.

Current Status Of The Parret Exception To Workers’ Compensation Exclusivity

It has long been the law in Oklahoma that the exclusive remedy for accidents arising out of and in the course of one’s employment was found within the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court/Commission. In 2005, things changed, and an exception to the exclusivity provisions was born. Later referred to as “Parret claims,” a new type of hybrid tort was solidified by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in Parret v. UNICCO Service Co.1 In Parret, the deceased, an employee of defendant UNICCO Service Co. (UNICCO), was electrocuted and killed while replacing emergency lights at the Dayton Tire Plant owned by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. (Bridgestone) in Oklahoma City.2 UNICCO assisted the widow in filing and ultimately receiving workers’ compensation death benefits.3 The widow then pursued an action in the Western District of Oklahoma against multiple defendants, alleging “her husband’s death resulted from the defendants’ willful and intentional acts of having the decedent work on the lights despite their knowledge of the substantial dangers associated with the task.”4

The Western District asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to certify the “standard of intent necessary for an employee’s tort claim against an employer to fall outside the protection of the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Act.”5 Under the Workers’ Compensation Act in place at the time, an employer was liable “for the disability or death of an employee resulting from an accidental injury sustained by the employee arising out of and in the course of employment, without regard to fault.”6 The act also made the employers’ liability under the act “exclusive and in place of all other liability of the employer.”7 In other words, the act provided the exclusive remedy for employees (or a surviving spouse) seeking redress from employers for injuries occurring on the job…Read More

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