Boca Raton, FL – On December 12, 2023, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, in Cantwell v. Flex-N-Gate, Inc., held that the 350 weeks statutory cap on permanent partial disability benefits (PPD) does not prevent a claimant from receiving additional PPD benefits if the claimant has not reached 100% impairment to any body part or the body as a whole.
In this case, a claimant suffered several work-related injuries—some under the workers compensation law in effect prior to the enactment of the Administrative Workers’ Compensation Act (AWCA) in 2014—and some after the AWCA enactment. For the injuries prior to 2014, the claimant received a 71.3% impairment rating and 360 weeks of PPD benefits. For the injuries sustained after 2014, the claimant filed three separate claims for which he was awarded PPD, however, payment was denied because the claimant had already received 360 weeks of PPD benefits for the prior injuries. In their decision, the ALJs relied on section 46(H) of the AWCA, which limits PPD benefits to 350 weeks. The Workers’ Compensation Commission affirmed the denial of PPD payments even though the claimant did not have 100% PPD disability rating and section 45(C)(1) of the AWCA provides that a PPD award or combination of awards may not exceed a PPD rating of 100% to any body part or the body as a whole.
On review by the state’s supreme court, the claimant asserted that even though he received 350 weeks of PPD payments before the effective date of the AWCA, he was still entitled to benefits because he had not reached 100% impairment. The supreme court agreed, reasoning that maximum percentage of impairment—100%—has remained the consistent limitation on PPD despite the fluctuation in the maximum number of weeks before and after the enactment of the AWCA. The court further stated that the claimant’s substantive rights would be violated if the court were to disregard the 100% impairment rating limitation in favor of the cap on the number of weeks, as the claimant would then be limited to only a 71.3% impairment despite the 100% limit set forth in section 45(C)(1). Thus, the court held that to avoid a constitutional violation when awarding PPD benefits where a claimant has compensable awards for injuries sustained prior to and after the 2014 AWCA enactment, the 100% limitation on PPD benefits in 45(C)(1) controls over the cap on the number of weeks in section 46(H).
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