Workers’ comp case welcomes amicus curiae briefs despite employer’s objections

Despite Oklahoma’s restrictive opt-out law and the protests of the employer involved, a worker’s comp case is now accepting amicus curiae briefs

Workers’ comp case welcomes amicus curiae briefs despite employer’s objections

Workers Comp

By Lyle Adriano

Although the employer involved in the case objected to it, the submission of amicus curiae briefs have been permitted in the ongoing Jonnie Yvonne Vasquez v. Dillard's Inc. case.

According to court records, Jonnie Yvonne Vasquez was denied benefits for an existing spine injury in September 2014 while working at a Dillard’s store in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The retailer, which through state law had opted out of the state’s workers’ comp system, asserted that its alternative plan did not cover for pre-existing injuries.

In February, the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission ruled in the case that the provisions of the state's “opt-out” Employee Injury Benefit Act deprived injured workers of equal protection and access to the courts, as well as unethically allows companies to define what constitutes as an “injury.”

Dillard’s appealed March to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. On early June, the company filed an objection to applications by industry and/or interest groups looking to submit amicus curiae briefs on behalf of Vasquez. The company reasoned that industry groups were filing separate applications through the same lawyer—Brandon Burton of Oklahoma City-based Burton Law Group P.C.—“in an improper attempt to add weight to one side of the argument.”

Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice John F. Reif on Friday ruled, however, that the court will accept amicus curiae briefs through June 27.

A couple of briefs were filed Monday. One of briefs was authored by three professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University and Rutgers University. The other was by Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group, based in Grove City, Ohio.

Both entreat the state Supreme Court to affirm the Workers' Compensation Commission's decision that the Employee Injury Benefit Act is unconstitutional.

Officials with the American Insurance Association and Property Casualty Insurers Association of America have confirmed that they will file briefs as well.

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