Statutory Construction

The provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act shall be strictly construed by the Workers' Compensation Court and any appellate court reviewing a decision of the Workers' Compensation Court.
85 O.S. §1.1C.

This section became effective on July 1, 2005. Does it legislatively overturn the long line of cases that hold the following:

[T]his Court has repeatedly held that workers' compensation laws must be liberally construed in favor of injured employees.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Switch, 1994 OK 59, 878 P.2d 357.

1. Substantive/Procedural Analysis

[A]fter-enacted legislation that increases or diminishes the amount of recoverable compensation or alters the elements of the claim or defense by imposition of new conditions affects the parties' substantive rights and liabilities. Retroactive application of an amendment affecting such matured rights would materially abridge an employee's right to press for unrecovered elements of a claim.
Cole v. Silverado Foods, Inc., 2003 OK 81, 78 P.3d 542

King Manufacturing v. Meadows, 2005 OK 78, 127 P.3d 584

2. Rules of Construction

To defeat an award for injuries under Workmen's Compensation Act, the case must come clearly within the statutory exceptions barring the award. Wick v. Gunn, 1917 OK 607, 169 P. 1087.

Supreme Court will look to the text of the Workers' Compensation Act, its underlying policies, and to the purposes of workers' compensation generally in applying the provisions of the Act. Sizemore v. Continental Casualty Company, 2006 OK 36, 142 P.3d 47.

Workers' compensation statutes, creating rights and obligations between employer and employee, are viewed as part of contract of employment, and vesting of rights under statutes occurs upon injurious occurrence. Special Indemnity Fund v. Weber, 1995 OK 43, 895 P.2d 292.

The purpose of the Workers' Compensation Act is to compensate injured workers for loss of earning power and disability to work. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Switch, 1994 OK 59, 878 P.2d 357. Workers' Compensation Laws must be liberally construed in favor of injured employees. Special Indemnity Fund v. Treadwell, 1984 OK 91, 693 P.2d 608. Workers' compensation is purely a creature of statute; it did not exist at common law. See Lang v. Landeros, 1996 OK CIV APP 4, 918 P.2d 404 (cert. denied). Thus, any allowance of benefits or the restriction upon an award must be given, if at all, by statute.
Strong v. Laubach, 2004 OK 21, 89 P.3d 1066

The primary goal of statutory construction is to ascertain and follow the intention of the Legislature. Ledbetter v Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission, 764 P.2d 172, 179 (Okla.1988). If a statute is plain and unambiguous and its meaning clear and no occasion exists for the application of rules of construction a statute will be accorded the meaning expressed by the language used. Berry v. Public Employees Retirement System, 768 P.2d 898, 899-900 (Okla.1989), quoting Caves Springs Public School District, 613 P.2d 1046, 1048 (Okla.1980). However, where a statute is ambiguous or its meaning uncertain it is to be given a reasonable construction, one that will avoid absurd consequences if this can be done without violating legislative intent. See Berry, supra at 900-901; Grand River Dam Authority v. State, 645 P.2d 1011, 1019 (Okla.1982). Further, the Legislature will not be presumed to have done a vain and useless act in the promulgation of a statute Cunningham v. Rupp Drilling, Inc., 783 P.2d 985, 986 (Okla.Ct.App.1989), nor will an inept or incorrect choice of words be applied or construed in a manner to defeat the real or obvious purpose of a legislative enactment. Wooten v. Hall, 442 P.2d 334, 336 (Okla.1968).
TRW/Reda Pump v. Brewington, 1992 OK 31, 829 P.2d 15

The intent of the legislature controls when interpreting statutes. Tulsa County Deputy Sheriff's Fraternal Order of Police v. Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, 2000 OK 2, ¶10, 995 P.2d 1124, 1125, reh'g. denied, (June 30, 1998), appeal after remand, 2000 OK 2, 995 P.2d 1124. It is presumed that the law-making body has expressed its intent in a statute and that it intended what it so expressed. TXO Production Corp. v. Okl. Corp. Comm'n, 1992 OK 39, ¶7, 829 P.2d 964, 969. Rules of statutory construction are employed only when legislative intent cannot be ascertained from the language of a statute, as in cases of ambiguity or conflict with other statutes. Cooper v. State ex rel. Dep't. of Public Safety, 1996 OK 49, ¶10, 917 P.2d 466, 468. The primary goal of rules of statutory construction is to ascertain the legislature's intent. Ledbetter v. Alcoholic Bev. Laws Enforcement, 1988 OK 117, ¶7, 764 P.2d 172, 179. Such intent must be gleaned from the statute in view of its general purpose and object. TXO Production Corp., 1992 OK 39 at ¶7, 829 P.2d at 968. When legislative intent is expressed clearly in the statute, there is no room for further judicial inquiry. George E. Failing Co. v. Watkins, 2000 OK 76, ¶8, 14 P.3d 52, 56. "The best evidence of legislative intent is the statutory language itself." Upton v. State Department of Corrections, 2000 OK 46, ¶6, 9 P.3d 84, 86 (footnote omitted.)
Johnson v. City of Woodward, 2001 OK 85, 38 P.3d 218

The goal of any inquiry into the meaning of a legislative enactment is to ascertain and follow legislative intent. It is presumed that (a) legislative intent is expressed in a statute's text and (b) the law-making body intended that which it expressed. Where the statute is plain and unambiguous, there is no room for judicial construction that would extend its ambit beyond the scope of the plain and unambiguous language. Only when the circumstances clearly indicate that in enacting the statute the legislature has overlooked something will this court apply rules of statutory construction in an effort to clarify and make sensible an act's purview. When construing a statute which has been amended, we are mindful that the legislature may have intended either (a) to effect a change in the existing law, or (b) to clarify that which previously appeared doubtful.
Arrow Tool & Guage v. Mead, 2000 OK 86, 16 P.3d 1120

Legislative silence, when it has the authority to speak, may be considered as an understanding of legislative intent. City of Duncan v. Bingham, 1964 OK 165, 394 P.2d 456.

Legislative familiarity with extant judicial construction of statutes in the process of being amended is presumed. Unless a contrary intent clearly appears or is plainly expressed, the terms of amendatory acts which retain the same, or not substantially dissimilar, portions of provisions formerly in force will be accorded the construction identical to that placed upon them by preexisting case law. Lekan v. P & L Fire Protection Co., 1980 OK 56, 609 P.2d 1289; Fenwick v. Oklahoma State Penitentiary, 1990 OK 47, ¶15, 792 P.2d 60

3. Separation of Powers

Yocum v. Greenbriar Nursing Home, 2005 OK 27, 130 P.3d 213

4. Mandatory Language

The use of "shall" generally signifies a legislative command. Davis v. GHS Health Maintenance, 2001 OK 3, ¶9, 22 P.3d 1204; United States through Farmers Home Admin. v. Hobbs, 1996 OK 77, ¶7, 921 P.2d 338; State ex rel. Macy v. Freeman, 1991 OK 59, ¶8, 814 P.2d 147. Nevertheless, the term can be permissive. Minie v. Hudson, 1997 OK 26, ¶7, 934 P.2d 10-82; Texaco, Inc. v. City of Oklahoma City, 1980 OK 169, ¶9, 619 P.2d 869; City of Enid v. Champlin Refining Co., 1925 OK 802, 240 P. 604.

We have held that the words "shall" and "must" are generally mandatory when used in statutes, but can be construed to mean "may" when no right or benefit depends upon the imperative use, when no public or private right is lost, or if such a reading would lead to great inconvenience. In Re Vrooman's Estate, 206 Okl. 8, 240 P.2d 754 (1952); City of Norman v. Liddell, Okl., 596 P.2d 879, 882 (1979).
Texaco, Inc. v. City of Oklahoma City, supra, ¶9.

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