Armstrong v. Unit Drilling, 95,999.

CourtSupreme Court of Oklahoma
Citation2002 OK 17,43 P.3d 383
Docket NumberNo. 95,999.,95,999.
PartiesGary ARMSTRONG, Petitioner, v. UNIT DRILLING, Liberty Mutual Insurance and the Workers' Compensation Court, Respondents.
Decision Date12 March 2002

Eddie L. Carr, Jack D. Crews, Tulsa, OK, for Petitioner.

James B. Cassody, Paul V. McGivern, Jr., McGivern, Gilliard & Curthoys, Tulsa, OK, for Respondents.


WATT, Vice Chief Justice.


¶ 1 In 1993 the Workers' Compensation Court, Hon. Terry Pendell, entered an order finding that Petitioner, Gary Armstrong, had sustained an accidental personal injury to his chest and had suffered a heart attack. The court held that Armstrong was totally and permanently disabled as a result of his injury and ordered,

THAT respondent and insurance carrier shall pay all reasonable medical expenses incurred by claimant as a result of said injury.

Respondents, Unit Drilling and Liberty Mutual, appealed the trial court's ruling to a three-judge panel of the Workers' Compensation Court, which affirmed the trial court's order.

¶ 2 It is undisputed that Armstrong sought continuing medical maintenance at the 1993 hearing of his claim. Further, for six years after the entry of the 1993 Workers' Compensation Court's order, Respondents paid for Armstrong's prescription drugs. In 1999 Respondents ceased paying for Armstrong's prescriptions and in 2000 Armstrong filed a request with the Workers' Compensation Court for an order requiring Respondents to continue to pay for his prescriptions.

¶ 3 On March 2, 2001, the Workers' Compensation Court, Hon. James Filosa, denied Armstrong's request that Respondents be required to continue paying for Armstrong's prescriptions. The court so ruled on the following grounds:

THAT, although the claimant requested continuing medical maintenance at the last hearing on permanency, the trial judge failed to make a finding on that issue. The order as written became final without appeal. The respondent's payment for prescription medications for a significant period of time thereafter was gratuitous in nature and without legal effect or requirement.
THAT the claimant has not established or sought a change of condition for the worse in the claim/matter alleged herein and thus is without standing to request continuing medical maintenance to maintain the status quo of permanency previously adjudicated by the Court on DECEMBER 29, 1993, at which the Court was silent on this issue.

Armstrong appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals, Division 1, affirmed the trial court. We granted certiorari on November 26, 2001.


¶ 4 Did the trial court err when it held that Respondents' continuing payment of Armstrong's expenses was "gratuitous"?
¶ 5 Did the trial court err when it held that Armstrong was required to prove his condition had worsened as a prerequisite to establishing his right to an order from the Workers' Compensation Court requiring Respondents to continue paying for Armstrong's prescriptions?

¶ 6 We hold that the trial court erred in holding that Respondents' payment of Armstrong's prescription bills was "gratuitous." We also hold that the trial court erred in holding that Armstrong was required to prove a change of condition as a prerequisite to establishing his right to continued payment of his prescription drug costs.


¶ 7 Respondents resist Armstrong's argument that they should continue to pay Armstrong's prescription bills on the ground that the silence of the Workers' Compensation Court's 1993 order with respect to the payment of future prescription costs bars Armstrong from now seeking payment of prescription costs and that their continued payment of these costs for six years was "voluntary." We disagree.

¶ 8 At the 1993 hearing, Armstrong expressly requested that Respondents be ordered to pay his continuing prescription costs and Respondents did pay those costs for the next six years. Further, the transcript of the 1993 hearing reveals that Respondents did not expressly resist Armstrong's claim for continuing prescription costs. Instead, Respondents focused their defense on their claim that Armstrong's heart attack was not causally related to his on-the-job injury — a claim that the trial court expressly rejected. These factors convince us that Armstrong is entitled to an order requiring Respondents to continue to pay those of Armstrong's prescription costs that they paid between 1993 and 1999.

¶ 9 Respondents contend that Schlumberger v. Drummond, 1992 OK CIV APP 152, 842 P.2d 371 and Bill Hodges Truck Co. v. Gillum, 1989 OK 86, 774 P.2d 1063, support their argument that Armstrong was obliged to appeal from the 1993 Workers' Compensation Court order or be barred from recovering his continuing prescription costs.1 Our opinions in Schlumberger and Bill Hodges Truck involved facts that differ significantly from the facts before us here. Here, as noted, Armstrong had expressly asked for continuing prescription costs in the trial court but the claimant had not done so in either Schlumberger or Bill Hodges Truck. Obviously, in neither Schlumberger nor Bill Hodges Truck did the employer ever pay for continuing prescription costs because the claimant had never asked for them. Further, in Bill Hodges Truck, we distinguished the facts presented there from the type of condition that makes it clear that long term health service is required, which the passage of time will not eliminate. We distinguished the issue there, whether claimant was entitled to an organ transplant without first showing a change of condition, from the situation presented in Orrick Stone v. Jeffries, 1971 OK 116, 488 P.2d 1243. In Orrick, the claimant was a quadriplegic who clearly required continuing medical services. We explained the Orrick rule in Bill Hodges Truck 1989 OK 86 at ¶ 9, 774 P.2d at 1066:

Recurrence of temporary disability is not required for an order directing the employer's provision of day-to-day maintenance care. The law authorizes that type of health services without a need for showing a postaward change of conditions.

¶ 10 Our holding in Bill Hodges Truck was based on our conclusion that the medical service sought by the claimant, an organ transplant, was not the sort of service the law authorizes to be awarded without a showing of a change of condition.2 Here, however, it was clear from the beginning that Armstrong's heart disease would require him to take a variety of heart medications on a permanent basis. Thus, Armstrong was not required to show that his condition had worsened in order to be entitled to continue to receive the medicines made necessary by his heart condition.

¶ 11 Respondents' argument that they paid Armstrong's continuing prescription costs "voluntarily" is unconvincing. It seems clear to us that Respondents paid those costs because they had interpreted the 1993 Workers' Compensation Court order as having required them to do so. In this connection, it seems especially unfair to hold that Armstrong's failure to appeal the 1993 order deprives him of his right to enforce his right to continuing medical expense payment when Respondents were paying those costs at the time the 1993 order became final. Thus, Respondents will not be heard to resist the interpretation of the 1993 order that they themselves were placing on it when it became final.

¶ 12 We conclude that the parties, and apparently the original trial judge, interpreted the 1993 order as requiring Respondents to pay Armstrong's continuing prescription expenses. Under these circumstances we hold that the failure to include language in the order was "a facially apparent mistake" as that term is used in Rule 39(A), Rules of the Workers' Compensation Court.3 We therefore direct the Workers' Compensation Court to correct the 1993 order by adding to it explicit language that Respondents are to pay Armstrong's continuing prescription costs.

¶ 13 We further direct, however, that only those medications Respondents paid for during the six years following the 1993 order are covered here. Any additional medications are expressly not covered by this opinion. Armstrong would be required to establish that his condition had changed for the worse and that the change was causally related to his original on-the-job injury as a prerequisite to establishing a right to an order requiring payment for additional medications. Bill Hodges Truck, 1989 OK 86 at § 6, 774 P.2d 1063.



¶ 16 HARGRAVE, C.J. — concurs in result.

¶ 17 HODGES, J.concurs in part, dissents in part.

¶ 18 OPALA, J.dissents.

OPALA, J., dissenting.

¶ 1 In a remarkable feat of wizardry the court today transmogrifies a 1993 Workers' Compensation Court's dispositional clause (whose settled meaning stands confined to liability for pre-award medical treatment expenses)4 into an explicit judicial grant of expenses for postaward continuing healthcare maintenance. Adding insult to injury, the court utilizes a common-law doctrine of estoppel — unavailable in the trial tribunal — to impose upon the employer a public-law liability.5 I must recede from today's pronouncement. ¶ 2 The Workers' Compensation Court is a statutory tribunal of narrow cognizance.6 It possesses only that jurisdiction which is conferred on it by law;7it may not enlarge its authority by borrowings from the common law.8 Today's departure from settled doctrine means that an employer's pure, judicially uncommanded postaward largesse (by voluntarily paying for the worker's postaward prescription medication) may be later invoked to saddle it with future liability for a worker's unadjudicated postaward medical expenses. In short, the court's...

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4 cases
  • Blythe v. University of Oklahoma
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • December 23, 2003
    ...necessary medical expenses. See generally Depue, 493 P.2d at 82-82; Jobe v. American Legion, 2001 OK 75, 32 P.3d 860; Armstrong v. Unit Drilling, 2002 OK 17, 43 P.3d 383; Campbell v. Hunt JB Transport Services, 2002 OK CIV APP 33, ¶ 7, 43 P.3d 421, 423 (providing "[a] goal of the Workers' C......
  • Emery v. Central Oklahoma Health Care
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • May 1, 2007
    ...for the purposes of maintenance is routinely authorized, as it has been in the case before us today. For example, in Armstrong v. Unit Drilling, 2002 OK 17, 43 P.3d 383, we held that a claimant who had suffered a work-related heart attack was entitled to continuing medical maintenance in th......
  • Loyd v. Michelin N. Am., Inc.
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • April 26, 2016
    ...before continuing medical maintenance benefits may be awarded.”14 ¶ 14 In the case before us, Loyd asks us to rely on Armstrong v. Unit Drilling, 2002 OK 17, 43 P.3d 383. We find Armstrong is distinguishable. In that case, it was undisputed that the claimant had sought continued medical mai......
  • Hall v. Sheffield Steel Corp., 99,605.
    • United States
    • United States State Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma. Court of Civil Appeals of Oklahoma
    • December 18, 2003
    ...pad. Sheffield Steel voluntarily supplied him with a TENS unit, but that was a generosity outside the order. ¶ 5 In Armstrong v. Unit Drilling, 2002 OK 17, 43 P.3d 383, a claimant had been adjudged permanently and totally disabled in 1993 as a result of his heart attack. Armstrong had sough......

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