Sysco Food Services of OK LLC v. Cunningham

Sysco Food Services of Oklahoma LLC v. Cunningham

162 P.3d 973

2007 OK CIV APP 52

Claimant injured his left shoulder while working for Employer. Employer began paying TTD benefits on October 5, 2005. Claimant had surgery on November 14, 2005 and Employer continued to pay TTD benefits until March 17, 2006 for a total of 24 weeks. Claimant then filed a Form 13 on March 30, 2006 seeking additional TTD benefits. Employer refused to pay benefits, relying on the workers’ compensation statute that limited benefits to a 24-week period. 

The Workers’ Compensation Trial Court found Claimant was and remained TTD, and awarded benefits starting March 17, 2006 and continuing for up to 156 weeks in the aggregate pursuant to 85 O.S. § 22(2)(c). Employer then appealed to a 3-judge panel that affirmed the trial court’s ruling. Employer then appealed to the Court of Civil Appeals. 

Upon review, the Court discussed the rules of statutory construction adopted through case law and focused special attention on those aimed at construing statutes as a whole, giving effect to legislative intent and the plain meaning of the statutory language. Where the statutory language wasn’t clear and unambiguous, the Court resorted to the same rule relied on by Gee, where the provision that is last in place wins. Under this rule of statutory construction, the Appellate Court held that because § 22(3) was last in position and the reference to § 22(2) was last in subsection 3, the reference of § 22(3) to §22(2) controls and that § 22(2) permitted an aggregate award of up to 300 weeks of TTD in soft tissue injury cases. 

The Court also noted that even if the Gee Court’s conclusion were incorrect, it would still reach the same conclusion here because § 22(3)(d) provides that a claimant with non-surgical soft tissue injuries is limited to 8 weeks of benefits and subsequently limited to an additional 16 weeks if the claimant is recommended for surgery, but the statutory language fails to address or limit available TTD benefits after claimant has had surgery. 

Employer argues that the § 22(3)(d) language authorizing one 16-week extension for a surgical injury shows the legislature’s intent to limit benefits to 24 weeks in cases where surgery is performed. The Court rejects this argument and holds that because § 22(3)(d) fails to specifically address post-surgical claimants, the subsection was not intended to disturb the § 22(2) benefit period. The Court says this interpretation is reinforced by the reference to § 22(2) within § 22(3)(d) and produces the effect that (1) claimants who have suffered non-surgical injuries will receive 8 weeks of benefits, (2) claimants who have been recommended for surgery will receive an additional 16 weeks of benefits between the time surgery is recommended and the time surgery is performed or declined, and (3) claimants who have received surgery will receive up to 300 weeks of benefits in accordance with § 22(2).  

Employer additionally asserts that the legislature meant to include surgical cases in its limit of TTD benefits because it specifically excepted from the category of soft tissue injuries certain conditions where corrective surgery is performed. Employer says this specific exclusion must mean there is no general exclusion. The Court responds by saying it is not unusual for the legislature to give specific examples of what it means and that at most the statutory language would only mean that the 24-week limit applies to those who have not received surgery for their injury. 

The Appellate Court sustained the Workers’ Compensation Court’s ruling. 

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