A groundbreaking Oklahoma legal case has proved why workers’ compensation matters.
An Oklahoma woman named Ms. Viola Sugg recently won her case with the Oklahoma Supreme Court after she was initially denied workers’ compensation benefits that she was legally owed.
In this case, claimant Viola Sugg sought permanent total disability benefits from the Multiple Injury Trust Fund.
The Workers’ Compensation Court argued that the claimant’s combined injuries did not constitute total disability. Thus, Ms. Sugg’s benefits were denied.
Ms. Sugg appealed the decision, and a three-judge panel reversed the decision, finding that she was a physically impaired person at the time of her last injury because of a 1989 adjudicated work-related injury. Thus, she was entitled to permanent total disability benefits from the Fund.
The Fund appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals held up the decision of the three-judge panel. The Oklahoma Supreme Court then agreed the claimant was permanently and totally disabled, thus making her entitled to benefits from the Fund.
What Does Permanent Total Disability Mean?
One of the central arguments of the case rested on the definition of permanent total disability.
Under Oklahoma law, permanent total disability is defined as the following:
“Incapacity because of accidental injury or occupational disease to earn any wages in any employment for which the employee may become physically suited and reasonably fitted by education, training or experience, including vocational rehabilitation; loss of both hands, or both feet, or both legs, or both eyes, or any two thereof, shall constitute permanent total disability.” (85 O.S. Supp. 2005 § 3(20).)
Based on this definition, Ms. Sugg may not have had a permanent total disability.
However, the Court argued that permanent total disability constitutes a “lack of ability to substantially perform gainful employment without injury to health or serious discomfort.”
The Court also argued that Ms. Sugg may not have been permanently and totally disabled according to a technical formula, although that should not change the outcome:
“When the earning power of an injured employee is wholly destroyed and he or she has no capacity to perform remunerative employment, the injured employee is entitled to permanent total disability benefits. Permanent disability is not “determined solely by technical formulas defining percentages of disability but is dependent to a large extent on the ability of the individual to perform continuously some substantially gainful occupation notwithstanding his disability.”
Ms. Sugg Suffered from Knee Problems, Varicose Veins, and Depression
Ms. Sugg recently experienced an injury to her right knee, which prompted the workers’ compensation claim.
Earlier in her life, she had experienced injuries to her left knee and neck. She also had a history of varicose veins and depression.
There were a number of factors that went into play here. After experiencing her most recent injury to her right knee, Ms. Sugg was still able to continue working – which is one reason why the total permanent disability claim was disputed.
Nevertheless, on November 17, the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma ruled in favor of Ms. Sugg, granting her total disability benefits from the state’s Workers Compensation fund.
The court determined that despite the fact Ms. Sugg could continue working after her right knee injury, the multiple injuries added up to a more serious problem.
In 2012, she had also undergone major changes in her job duties which required more physical activity.
The final piece of the puzzle was that Ms. Sugg had only been educated in her specific type of job, and that she was not qualified to perform any other job for gainful employment now or in the future:
“[Due to the] synergistic effects of Ms. Sugg’s adjudicate[d] injuries and resultant impairments and subsequent surgical procedures to her cervical spine and knees, in combination with her age, educational background, economic status, and employment history, as well as the fact that her job duties were changed in December 2012 to involve more strenuous type duties and standing for long period of time, she is no longer able to perform any “gainful employment for which she is qualified now or in the future. Claimant is permanently and totally disabled and is entitled to benefits from the Fund.”
You can read full details about this unique Oklahoma City workers’ compensation case at Justia.com.
Are You Missing Out On Benefits You’re Legally Owed?
Ultimately, Sugg’s case is encouraging employees across Oklahoma to come forward with their workers’ compensation claims. Whether you’re dealing with an abusive employer or just a stingy insurance agency, workers’ compensation matters.