Case name: American Airlines Inc., et al. v. Crabb, No. 104999 (Okla. 09/22/09).
The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the appeals court erred in applying Oklahoma's amended definition of cumulative trauma to the worker's claim. It also determined the date of injury in a cumulative trauma case is the date the worker becomes aware of the injury.
What it means:
In Oklahoma, the date of injury in a cumulative injury case is the date of awareness, and the "major cause" requirement that became effective July 1, 2005, cannot be applied retroactively to injuries. A court determines the date of injury under the law in effect at the time of the employee's injury.
An American Airlines worker sought benefits for a back injury that he allegedly sustained from cumulative trauma while working for the airlines. He first became aware of this injury in June 2004 but filed his claim on July 5, 2005. His date of last exposure was June 30, 2005. Oklahoma's law stated that the date of injury for cumulative traumas was the date of awareness. However, the appeals court determined that the date of injury was the date of last exposure. Additionally, the law was changed July 1, 2005, to add a requirement that the injured worker prove the cumulative trauma was the "major cause" of the injury. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that this new amendment requiring medical evidence of the major cause of the injury was not applicable retroactively to the worker's 2004 claim. It also held the appeals court incorrectly interpreted the law in finding the date of last exposure was the determinative date.
The court reasoned that amendments that related solely to remedies or procedural issues may be applied retroactively, but that amendments that affect a worker's substantive rights cannot. It noted that the worker's substantive rights are governed by the law in effect at the time of awareness. The law could not be applied to the worker's claim because it changed his responsibility to prove a new element above and beyond the definition in effect at the time of his injury.
Under the law in effect in 2004, the workplace cause of injury "need not be the sole cause . . . but it is sufficient if it is a direct and contributing cause." Oklahoma amended its definition of "cumulative trauma" on July 1, 2005, to be "a compensable injury, the major cause of which results from employment activities which are repetitive in nature and engaged over a period of time and which is supported by objective medical evidence as defined [in the workers' compensation law]." The Supreme Court set aside the Court of Appeals' determination that the worker failed to prove his cumulative trauma claim.
Read more at the WORKERSCOMP ForumTM homepage.
October 29, 2009
Copyright 2009© LRP Publications