U.S. Tenth Circuit - The FindLaw 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

State High Court Says OK Oil Companies Not Exempt From Workers Comp

A case out of Oklahoma's Supreme Court is making national headlines for holding the oil and gas industry to task and overturning the heavy handed state law that was in its favor.

The 2014 case involves the death of David Chambers, who, while working for a trucking company, was severely burned while working at an oil well site owned by Stephens Production Company. A change to the state's worker compensation laws in 2011 that specifically exempted oil and gas companies from lawsuits, essentially rendered Stephens immune from liability for the injury and death. Seeing no valid reason for oil and gas companies to be exempted in this way, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the law to be unconstitutional.

Don't Pass on Oil and Gas

The decision of the state's high court should inspire injury and workers comp lawyers to take up more cases against the oil and gas companies within the state (which is really big business in OK). In 2014, the year Chambers died, 14 other workers were killed in the state doing oil and gas, mining, or quarry, work. Just a day before the state's high court passed judgment here, an explosion at a gas rig in the state left 5 workers dead.

While the workers know that these jobs are dangerous, employers are keenly aware of the dangers as well. Given that the law shielding oil and gas companies from liability for workers comp actions has been struck down, now is probably the best time for parties to seek justice.

Leveling an Industry

As Chambers' attorney explained in a statement on the decision, the law used to categorize any worker on an oil and gas site as a worker of the site's owner or operator, who was basically exempted from liability under the law.

Holding that part of the law unconstitutional puts the oil and gas companies on the same level as other industries. The attorney also noted that Oklahoma was the only state to provide this blanket immunity to oil and gas companies.

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