On May 5, 2020, the Oklahoma Supreme Court published an important decision clarifying existing law regarding workers’ compensation exclusivity and whether a plaintiff may sue for intentional tort after a workers compensation claim. In Farley v. City of Claremore, the plaintiff brought a workers’ compensation claim and obtained an award of death benefits for her husband who died after an on-the-job injury. The plaintiff then sued the employer in district court, alleging an intentional tort (commonly called a Parret claim). The district court dismissed the claim.
On appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that, when an injured worker, or his representatives, obtains a final award by the Workers’ Compensation Commission, the law bars a subsequent claim in district court for intentional injury. . The Court based its decision on issue preclusion and statutory workers’ compensation exclusivity provisions. The Court noted that a final award in workers compensation includes an adjudicated finding that the injury was accidental rather than intentional.
The Farley decision marks a significant change in the treatment of workers’ compensation awards and subsequent intentional tort litigation. Previously, most Oklahoma courts would permit an intentional tort claim to proceed and simply allow the employer a setoff for amounts paid in workers compensation. The Farley decision ought to put an end to such practices, and may be used by skilled defense attorneys to pursue the most favorable path of resolution. However, Farley’s emphasis on a “final award” could leave open the possibility for simultaneous, parallel actions until one action is concluded.