The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the state's worker's compensation law that said oil and gas well operators and owners could not be sued when a worker is injured or killed on the job.
The Tuesday ruling was the result of a suit brought by the family of David Chambers who was severely injured and later died following an accident at an oil well operated by Stephens Production Company in Crescent, Oklahoma in 2014.
A workers' comp law adopted in 2015 by the Oklahoma legislature granted oil companies immunity from lawsuits. The law was part of a package of reforms intended to stop frivolous lawsuits and reduce malpractice and liability costs by doctors and other businesses.
The Supreme Court said, "No valid reason exists for the special treatment of the oil and gas industry" under Oklahoma's workers' compensation system and that it is unconstitutional to have a special law that treats the oil and gas industry differently than other industries.
The Chambers family is seeking a minimum of $300,000 in damages, saying Stephens Production Company negligently operated the well. The case will be sent back to the district court where the family hopes it will be resolved.
Tuesday's finding comes one day after five oil rig workers were killed when a gas well owned by Red Mountain Operating exploded near Quinton, Oklahoma. Well number 219 was being drilled by Patterson-UTI Energy when it exploded into flames around 9 am Monday morning.