Granted, Roy Wilson, a Wayne, Okla., rug manufacturer, is bemoaning his problems with Oklahoma's workers compensation system to anybody who'll listen.
But to his credit, Wilson and his company vice president, David Horton, buckled down and came up with some concrete workers compensation reform proposals they say would make a real difference to Oklahoma small businesses.
Moreover, most of their ideas are right on the mark, according to Oklahoma State Insurance Fund Commissioner Michael Clingman, a former state Workers Compensation Court administrator and judge.
The State Insurance Fund is the state's largest workers compensation insurer, and it carries the insurance for Roy Wilson Manufacturing Co.
Clingman may not be too familiar with Wilson, but he's really familiar with the Workers Compensation Court. He also is chairman of Gov. David Walters' workers compensation task force. Based on these credentials, he was approached by The Journal Record to get a reaction on Wilson's proposals.
The Wilson plan for workers compensation reform was born of his outrage over lack of recourse when he felt he was wronged by the system; talks with lawyers who work for the State Insurance Fund; counsel by Robert Morgan, attorney for Wilson Manufacturing; and information he and Horton gathered from Texas employers on a trip they took especially for that purpose.
Workers compensation benefits are figured on 300 work days a year. If benefits were based on a typical five-day work week, it would mean they should be calculated at 260 work days a year, Wilson said.
"This 1915 law has never been updated, even though work patterns have changed in the past 75 years," Wilson said.
Morgan said: "You can have an employee who is receiving, literally, on temporary disability payments, an average weekly wage about equal to take-home pay. Where is the incentive for that employee to get treatment and come back to work?" Clingman said: "We're going to discuss that change to recommend to the governor (at the task force's Sept. 13 meeting). It's high on the list." Wilson said trial notification timetables are unfair to employers, who many times receive notice of a trial as few as 10 days prior to the court date.
Clingman diverged with him on this point, however, saying that it was his recollection that notices go out at least 30 days in advance. A Workers Compensation Court clerk said notices are sent out six weeks in advance of the trial to the attorney of the employer's workers compensation insurance company _ which would be the State Insurance Fund in Wilson's case.
Wilson said employers are almost never granted a continuance, or postponement of hearing, by workers compensation judges, while employees are automatically granted a continuance.
"He's exactly right," Clingman said. "It's a longtime frustration on the part of employers that they cannot force an employee into a trial against their will." Clingman said because an employee is seeking benefits for himself, or herself, when a claim is filed, if the employee isn't ready to go to trial, the judge generally continues the case.
Employers sometimes get a continuance if they have a good excuse, he said. Meanwhile, some employees abuse the privilege, he said. "They have continuance after continuance, and there's no penalty for that in most cases." The overly long period that workers compensation cases can remain open _ in some cases 500 days _ ties up employers' reserve dollars and increases experience modifications, Wilson said. Experience modifications are instances of claims filed against an employer, which raise that company's individual premium rate.
"As it is, attorneys use their old files as a kind of savings account, in case times get tough for them," said the Wilson plan. "Cases should be settled within one year." Clingman said, however, many cases could not be settled in a year, because the injury hasn't healed and the extent of the disability is uncertain. …