Oklahoma oil and gas workers and their families recently welcomed news that the state’s highest court struck down a rule exempting oil and natural gas companies from being sued when their workers are injured or killed on the job.
On Jan. 23, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found the part of the state’s workers compensation law giving oil and natural gas companies special immunity from the law was unconstitutional. The unanimous decision with one recusal resolves a lawsuit brought by the daughter of a worker who was killed in a well site accident in Crescent, Oklahoma, in 2013.
David Chambers worked for Crescent-based RDT Trucking Inc. and was severely burned in an accident at the well site operated by Stephens Production Company of Fort Smith, Arkansas. He did not survive his injuries.
Mr. Chambers’ daughter filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Stephens Production Company. The well operator, however, argued that it was immune from the complaint because lawmakers who overhauled the workers compensation laws in 2011 slipped in a statute giving “complete blanket immunity” to the oil and gas industry, an attorney familiar with the case told Oklahoma City’s KFOR Channel 4.
According to KFOR, the Supreme Court judges found the statute to be “an unconstitutional special law” and that “… no valid reason exists for the special treatment of the oil and gas industry …”
The primary author of the workers compensation overhaul bill was Sen. Anthony Sykes, a Republican. According to KFOR, Sen. Sykes received about $13,000 in donations from the oil and gas industry around the time the workers comp laws were being rewritten.
“I am not aware of any other law which gives special treatment to only one particular industry as it relates to injured workers,” a lawyer for the family of David Chambers told KFOR. “The Supreme Court decision puts the oil and gas industry on the same level as all other industries.”
The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision came the day after a gas rig in Quincy, Oklahoma exploded, killing five workers and leaving one with burn injuries. That accident was the deadliest rig explosion since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in 2010, killing 11 workers.