Monday, October 25, 2010

Recreational Activities Are Not Compensable Under Oklahoma Law

The 2005 amendments to the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Act excluded recreational and social activities from the definition of injury. "Compensable injury" shall not include . . . injury incurred while engaging in, performing or as the result of engaging in or performing any recreational or social activities. 85 O.S. §3(13)(d), effective July 1, 2005.


Recreational injuries occurring prior to July 1, 2005, are generally compensable when 1) they occur on the business premises and are a regular incident of the job, or 2) participation was compulsory, or 3) there was a substantial direct benefit to the employer. If any one of these criteria is met, the claim is compensable, including travel to and from an off-premises Christmas party and taking the baby sitter home. Oklahoma Natural Gas Co. v. Williams, 1981 OK 147, 639 P.2d 1222.


The language of the new exclusion was interpreted by the Court of Civil Appeals in the case of Orcutt v. Lloyd Richards Personnel Service, 2010 OK CIV APP 77, __ P.3d __.


During his lunch break Andrew Orcutt injured his knee playing basketball in the company warehouse on a floor that had a goal and painted boundaries. The employer knew about, encouraged, and acquiesced in the games. Under the pre-2005 rules the claim would be clearly compensable. However, the trial court denied the claim based on the plain meaning of the new exclusionary terms. The COCA affirmed the trial court decision.


In an interesting sidelight (called dictum in the legal world), the COCA commented on the constitutionality of the provision. Although the issue was not properly framed for their consideration, the judges found that the legislative changes did not deprive a recreationally-injured worker of any constitutional rights. The legislature has the power to exclude classes of injuries that were compensable prior to the enactment.


The larger, unanswered question is whether employers no longer have tort immunity for injuries sustained at recreational and social functions such as Christmas parties, company sponsored sports leagues, the Orcutt basketball pick-up game, attendance at charitable events to name a few.

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