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Oklahoma: Special Tort Immunity Provision Favoring Oil and Gas Wells Struck Down as Unconstitutional

January 26, 2018 (1 min read)

A provision in Oklahoma’s Administrative Workers’ Compensation Act (“the Act”), 85A Okl. St. § 5, which favors operators and owners of oil and/or gas wells with extended immunity in tort actions filed against them by plaintiffs who are injured at the well site and who are actually employed by other firms, is unconstitutional as an impermissible special law under Art. 5, § 59 of the Oklahoma Constitution, held the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. The statutory provision, in pertinent part, deems any operator or owner of an oil or gas well to be an “intermediate or principal employer” [i.e., a statutory employer, see Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 111.04] for any services performed at the drill site with respect to work-related injuries sustained by workers whose immediate employer was hired by the operator or owner. Here the plaintiff was a truck driver Because of the special provision, therefore, the operator or owner would be immune from suit under the exclusive remedy provisions of the Act. Among the arguments presented by the well operators was a contention that they needed “certainty” regarding their tort liability exposure. The Court observed that employers in other industries would, in all likelihood, also prefer to have certainty regarding their exposure to liability. Such certainty regarding immunity from liability was not a distinctive characteristic of the oil and gas industry that warranted special treatment.

Thomas A. Robinson, J.D., the Feature National Columnist for the LexisNexis Workers’ Compensation eNewsletter, is the co-author of Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law (LexisNexis).

LexisNexis Online Subscribers: Citations below link to Lexis Advance.

See Strickland v. Stephens Prod. Co., 2018 OK 6, 2018 Okla. LEXIS 6 (Jan. 23, 2018)

See generally Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 111.04[1][a].

Source: Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, the nation’s leading authority on workers’ compensation law