While the Oklahoma Workers Compensation system is subject to close scrutiny by legislators and likely to undergo significant changes, the Office of the Attorney General has begun its first workers compensation fraud case of the year.
Welders Charged with Workers Compensation Fraud
Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt's office charged three Tulsa men with workers compensation fraud, saying that the men's injuries were not sustained from a job-related accident as they claimed. Accused are Nathaniel Eugene McAlexander, 35; Joshua A. Duckworth, 23; and Andrew Ozias, 21.
The three men were employees of L.E.F., Inc., a laser processing and metal fabrication facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In November 2011, the men sustained facial burns in what they claim was a flash fire started by a leaking welding torch. They filed for workers compensation benefits the following month.
The Attorney General's Workers' Compensation Fraud Unit, however, claims that the men's injuries were sustained during horseplay and did not"arise out of" or "in the course of" the worker's employment, necessary distinctions for compensable injuries. Instead, prosecutors allege, the men's burns occurred as they were playing with fireworks and small explosives outside the facility.
What Constitutes Workers Compensation Fraud?
According to a press release from the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General, evidence of workers' comp fraud in this case includes:
- No sign of fire or disturbance at the scene
- No gas tank leak
- No evidence of equipment malfunction
- All equipment in working order
- No presence of gas odor or oily soot residue
- A witness working near the men heard no explosion and saw no signs of fire
- Evidence of small explosives outside the facility, including a soot-covered lighter, a pressure tank that stored gas, balloon fragments, a burned plastic container, and hollow golf balls
- Items used to make small explosives that matched those discovered outside the facility found in McAlexander's locker: fireworks, a golf ball with a fuse, hollow golf balls, and balloons
The Oklahoma Workers Compensation Code lists injuries arising from horseplay are not compensable, saying, "Except for innocent victims, an injury caused by a prank, horseplay, or similar willful or intentional behavior," is excluded from workers' compensation benefits eligibility.Workers compensation fraud can make it difficult for deserving employees to have their claims approved and approved quickly. Employers' insurance providers are quick to suspect fraud and/or deny legitimate claims, which makes hiring an Oklahoma workers' compensation fraud lawyer critical for claimants.