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A Victory for Workers

by Joseph C. Biscone, II | Published January 28, 2018 on The Oklahoman

 

The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently handed a victory to workers. In a unanimous ruling, the justices struck down an unconstitutional “special law” exempting oil and gas companies from certain lawsuits. For the past five years, Oklahoma workers in almost all industries could sue any third-party company for negligence. The oil and gas industry was protected under the Administrative Workers’ Compensation Act. This new ruling means energy companies are no longer immune from third-party lawsuits if a person is hurt or killed on a job site.

Here’s what this means for oilfield workers: Imagine John works for XYZ Drilling and gets hurt on a well site. Another company on the site, ABC Pumping, was negligent and caused his injuries. Now he can sue ABC Pumping; previously, he could not. One thing hasn’t changed. If John was hurt on the job, he still cannot sue his immediate employer, XYZ Drilling. Basic workers’ compensation law has not changed. But now oil and gas workers have an opportunity to sue negligent third-party companies for personal injuries.

The high court nailed it when it stated, “No valid reason exists for the special treatment of the oil and gas industry” under Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system. The justices put the industry on a level playing field. Oilfield workers are finally one step closer to getting the protection they deserve.

Biscone is a partner at Johnson & Biscone, P.A.