Oklahoma Court Decision May Spark More Suits Against Employers

Nancy Grover

Oklahoma City, OK (WorkersCompensation.com) – The Oklahoma Supreme Court has effectively expanded the definition of ‘intentional tort’ in occupational injury cases. The decision appears to open the way for more employees to sue their employers for injuries, rather than obtaining benefits through the workers’ compensation system.

Wells v. Oklahoma Roofing & Sheet Metal involved the death of a worker who was on the roof of a three-story building “when he was required by Employer to unhook his single line lanyard requiring him to cross over two coworkers. He walked ten feet beyond the point where he had unhooked his lanyard when he fell, landing on an awning thirty feet below, and then he rolled off the awning and fell onto bricks on the ground twelve feet below to his death,” the case says. “Prior to the date of Wells injury and death, Oklahoma Roofing and Sheet Metal, Inc., was cited for a violation related to the duty to have a sufficient fall protection system.”

The worker’s daughter brought a wrongful death action for intentional tort. She said the employer was “willful, wanton, and intentional in directing the decedent-employee to perform certain tasks that the decedent’s employer knew was certain or substantially certain to result in the decedent-employee’s death…”

In its 5 – 4 decision yesterday, the court determined that both a “specific intent to injure” and “those injuries that an employer knows are substantially certain to occur” constitute intentional tort.

The court noted that this definition of intentional tort had been established in a case 14 years ago, and that since then, the state legislature had narrowed the definition. Yesterday’s decision appears to have changed the definition back.

“In other words, if there is substantial certainty that an action will cause harm to a worker, an intentional tort exists,” said Bob Burke, an Oklahoma attorney who has advocated for injured workers.News brought to you by WorkersCompensation.com