News & Resources

The Oklahoma Supreme Court Interprets the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act

Jan 23, 2018 - Court Decisions by

The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently decided a case involving the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act.  In Beach v. Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, 2017 OK 40, 398 P.3d 1, the plaintiff alleged that her religious rights were violated because she was required to submit a high-resolution facial photograph to renew her driver’s license.  The plaintiff claimed that her “sincerely held” religious beliefs forbade her from participating in a global-numbering identification system, using the “number of man,” and that her beliefs “eternally concern her for participation in any such system.”  In particular, the plaintiff complained that the State used measurements off of her facial points to determine a “number that is specific to her” for use with facial recognition software.  She believed the resulting number was the “number of a man” referred to in Revelation 13:16-18. In 2000, Oklahoma enacted the “Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act” (ORFA).  51 O.S. §253.  The OFRA mandates that no governmental entity shall substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.  In this case, the Court held that the plaintiff did not produce any evidence that the State had substantially burdened the free exercise of her articulated religious beliefs, nor any evidence to support her “fear” that the State would be distributing her personal data on an international scale in violation of her religious beliefs.  Because the plaintiff failed to state a prima facie case for violation of the ORFA, the burden did not shift to the […]

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Oklahoma Supreme Court Addresses an Insurer’s Ability to Question Reasonableness of Medical Bills in First-Party UM Claim

Jan 23, 2018 - Court Decisions by

In the recent case of Falcone v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 2017 OK 11, 391 P.3d 105, the Court addressed a bad faith cause of action against an insurance company in the uninsured motorist context.  In that case, the insurer withheld payment of UM benefits, claiming that the medical bills the insured received from a health care provider were excessive in amount.  The plaintiff had been taken by ambulance to an emergency room, and then transferred to a trauma center, incurring billed fees in the amount of $47,203.00, which later increased to $67,098.23.  The insurer conducted its own review of the billing, and concluded it was excessive, and suggested that the treatment the plaintiff received was far in excess of what was necessary.  The plaintiff eventually sued the insurer in order to get his medical bills paid, and requested additional damages for the alleged “bad faith” conduct on the part of the insurer.  The trial court granted summary judgment, finding it was reasonable as a matter of law for the insurer to question the reasonableness of the medical charges. The Supreme Court reversed, and remanded, finding that defendant offered less than the maximum amount of its evaluations, took the position that certain treatment was unwarranted, and forced plaintiff to file a lawsuit  — after which the insurer sent a check for full policy limits.  The Court noted that the amount of her medical bill was beyond her control, as was the decision of the ER doctor to send her to […]

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New Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Dramatically Expands Legal Liability of Convenience Stores Related to Assessing the Intoxication Level of Customers Prior to Sale of Alcohol

Nov 1, 2017 - Court Decisions by

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has recently issued an opinion that will dramatically expand the potential liability of convenience stores (and other retail establishments) that sell alcohol to the public.  In that case, the Court concluded that a convenience store can be held liable when a noticeably intoxicated customer buys alcohol at the store, and then consumes that alcohol off-the premises, and then drives a vehicle and causes injury to a third person.  See Boyle v. ASAP Energy, Inc., 2017 OK 82, 2017 WL 4782999.  The third person who is injured by the customer’s “off-the-premises” intoxication now has a claim against the convenience store. In Boyle, an individual consumed 14-16 beers at a golf tournament and a “sip of moonshine.”  He left the golf tournament at 2:00 p.m., and returned home at 3:20 p.m.  He then grilled chicken at home, and drank 4-5 beers, 3-4 shots of vodka and an additional sip of moonshine.  He went to the “Fast Lane” convenience store (the defendant in this case) at 5:17 p.m., and bought a 9 pack of low point beer and cigarettes.  He then returned home, and then left his house at approximately 9:00 p.m. to attend a party elsewhere.  He made it to the party, had another shot of vodka, and let around 11:00 p.m.  This was 5 hours after he purchased the beer at Fast Lane.  At that time, he ran a four-way stop at a high rate of speed and collided with another vehicle.  He killed one person, and […]

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Six Best & Sharp Attorneys Chosen for 2017 Oklahoma Super Lawyer’s list

Oct 24, 2017 - News by

Best & Sharp is pleased to announce that six of its attorneys were named in the 2017 Oklahoma Super Lawyers list of the state’s outstanding lawyers. Super Lawyers selects attorneys based on peer nominations and each candidate is evaluated on 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. The goal is to create a list of outstanding attorneys which can be used by attorneys and consumers alike in searching for counsel. The final published list represents no more than 5 percent of the lawyers in the state. Super Lawyers: Timothy Best – Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, Health Care, Civil Litigation Sean McKee – Personal Injury – Medical Malpractice, General Litigation, Personal Injury – Products Thomas Le Blanc – Civil Litigation, Personal Injury – Medical Malpractice Matthew Free – Appellate, Personal Injury – Medical Malpractice Attorneys 40 years old or younger or have been in practice for 10 years or less, can be considered for the Rising Stars List. The selection process is the same as the Super Lawyers selection process but no more than 2.5 percent are named to the Super Lawyer’s Rising Stars list. Rising Stars: Benjamin Reed – Civil Litigation, Personal Injury – General, Personal Injury – Products, Personal Injury – Medical Malpractice, Construction Litigation Carrie McNeer – Civil Litigation For more information, see firm listing at Superlawyers.com.

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Best & Sharp Mourns Death of Firm Founder, Joseph Best

Sep 26, 2017 - News by

Joseph Monroe Best was born October 12, 1925 in Tiawah, Oklahoma. He joined the Marines at age 17 and proudly served in WWII. After being honorably discharged, Joe attended the University of Oklahoma College of Law and the University of Tulsa College of Law on the GI Bill (of Rights).  He began his legal career in 1949 at the law firm of Pierce, Rucker, Mock, Tabor and Duncan where he met Joe Sharp, a young lawyer who had also served in WWII in the Pacific Theatre and with whom he shared a desk. This started an iconic partnership that lasted for 50 years. In 1962 Joe formed the law firm of Best, Sharp, Thomas and Glass. This law firm endured with the same principal partners for over 25 years. In 1969, the firm was hired by the Tulsa County Medical Association and the Oklahoma State Medical Association to represent physicians.  The firm, and particularly Joe Best, became widely recognized for representing physicians, and specifically, defending physicians in medical malpractice cases. In 1988 at age 63, he and Joe Sharp left Best, Sharp, Thomas, Glass & Atkinson and went on to form the law firm now known as Best & Sharp. Joe Best was well respected as both a gifted lawyer and a man of extreme character and integrity. During his career Joe Best tried over 500 jury trials and mentored scores of young lawyers. While Joe’s experience was founded in trial work, his partner Joe Sharp focused on appellate work. […]

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The U.S. Supreme Court Decides New Arbitration Case

May 17, 2017 - Uncategorized by

The United States Supreme Court recently decided a new arbitration case involving the Federal Arbitration Act in the nursing home context. See Kindred Nursing Centers v. Clark, 2017 WL 2039160 (2017). Kentucky courts had held that certain arbitration agreements were invalid because the “powers of attorney” at issue did not specifically entitle the representatives to enter into the arbitration agreements. This was called the “clear statement” rule. In other words, an agent could not deprive her principal of the right to “jury trial” unless it was expressly provided for in the power of attorney. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that Kentucky’s “rule” violated the FAA because it singled out arbitration agreements for disfavored treatment. The Court made it clear that the Federal Arbitration Act cares not only about the “enforcement” of arbitration agreements, but also about their “initial validity,” or “what it takes to enter into them.” The Court stated that “[a] rule selectively finding arbitration contracts invalid because improperly formed fares not better under the Act than a rule selectively refusing to enforce those agreements once properly made.” The decision reinforces the strength of the Federal Arbitration Act, even in state court proceedings. The Court remanded for further consideration of the power of attorney.

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Public Policy Exception to At-Will Employment Standard Expanded

Apr 26, 2017 - News by

In the recent case of Moore v. Warr Acres Nursing Center, 2016 OK 28, 376 P.3d 894, the Oklahoma Court held that a public policy exception to at-will employment existed to protect an employee from being fired from a nursing home solely for not working while infected with the influenza virus, and that fact questions remained as to the true reasons for the employee’s termination, which precluded summary judgment.  Moore was the first case to rely on federal and state agency regulations to support the “public policy”  issue.

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Oklahoma Supreme Court Upholds Constitutionality of 12 Okla. Stat. §3009.1 Regarding Admissibility of Medical Expenses

Apr 26, 2017 - News by

In November of 2011, a new statute became effective in Oklahoma which limited the admissibility of evidence in personal injury cases regarding a plaintiff’s economic damages.  Prior to the statute, there was some confusion on the amount that a plaintiff could recover in a personal injury lawsuit for medical bills – i.e., the amounts “billed” by health care providers, or the amounts “actually paid.”  For a variety of reasons, the amounts “billed” are often far in excess of the amounts “actually paid” for medical services. The new statute has the purpose of limiting the admissibility of such evidence to the amount “paid” for such services.  In Lee v. Bueno, 2016 OK 97, 381 P.3d 736, the plaintiff argued that the statute was unconstitutional for a variety of reasons.  However, the Court rejected all such arguments.  The Court held that, in enacting the statute, the “Legislature has exercised its policymaking role and determined that injured parties in a personal injury action will not be able to admit evidence of, and therefore recover damages for, amounts they or their insurer were billed for treatment but were not required to pay” and that the statute “abrogates the collateral source rule to the extent it would otherwise conflict with the statute.”  A concurring opinion note that the new statute was a “reaction to the way that medical services are priced.  It ensures that a plaintiff does not receive a windfall, but also ensures that the measure of damages ‘is the amount which will compensate […]

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Best & Sharp Contributes to DRI Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage Compendium

Apr 26, 2017 - News by

DRI’s Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage Compendium has recently been published.  The Compendium addresses the latest developments on topics relevant to UM/UIM coverage.  Topics include whether UM/UIM coverage is mandatory, whether stacking is allowed or required and which if any offsets against coverage are allowed.  The Compendium addresses these questions in each of the fifty states, as well as the District of Columbia.  Compendium authors were selected based upon their breadth and depth of experience and knowledge in defending against related contract and bad faith actions.  Attorney Matthew B Free, with Best & Sharp, was honored to write the Compendium’s Oklahoma chapter.

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Court Recognizes Burk Tort in New Context

Jun 13, 2016 - News by

Oklahoma is at an “at-will” employment state.  In general, this means that “an employer may discharge an employee for good cause, for no cause or even for cause morally wrong, without being thereby guilty of legal wrong.”  See Burk v. K-Mart Corp., 1989 OK 22, ¶5, 770 P.2d 24.  However, the Court has recognized exceptions to this rule when the termination is “in contravention of a clear mandate of public policy.”  Id. at ¶17.  In the recent case of Moore v. Warr Acres Nursing Home Center, LLC, 2016 OK 28, the Court recognized a Burk tort for terminating an employee of a nursing facility after the employee allegedly called in sick with influenza.  The Court held that a clear public policy exists that would prevent a nursing home employer from terminating an employee solely because the employee had influenza.  (The Court based this public policy on the “constitution, the statutes, the regulations approved by Congress and the Oklahoma Legislature, and the Nursing Center’s rules, regulations and handbook.”)  The Court remanded for a jury trial because fact questions remained over whether this was the true basis for the employee’s termination. As the dissent notes, the case is probably the most significant because it allows a “public policy” tort to be based on administrative rules/regulations:  “Including administrative rules within the public policy exception greatly expands the Burk tort, placing a greater burden on employers who must search through those rules to determine whether termination of an employee will be against public policy.”  […]

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