Four Compensation Bills Survive

Article excerpt

Of nine workers compensation bills debated before the Oklahoma House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Thursday, four lived to face further legislative honing.

One of the survivors, House Bill 1488 by Rep. Loyd Benson, D-Frederick, would boost the permanent disability workers must have to 35 percent from 17 percent to qualify for Special Indemnity Fund coverage.

The Special Indemnity Fund, formerly called the second injury fund, was created to urge employers' hiring of physically handicapped workers. Employers were made liable for only the injury they caused if a second injury to a previously injured worker occured.

Employers and employees, who now each rebate to the fund 3 percent of the total permanent injury award, would each be expected to add 1 percent. The additional money would defray the fund's deficit. The fund is between 12 months and 14 months behind on claims, the committee was told. The increased charge would be effective through July 1, 1991, when the fund is expected to be replenished and the rates could be restored to 3 percent.

Raising the fund's qualification threshold to 35 percent would make fewer cases eligible for the fund, negating any need to raise the contribution by carrier and claimant to 4 percent, said Pat Ryan, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Trial Lawyers Association.

The bill also prohibits the combining of hearing loss and lung injuries with other injuries to meet the minimum percentage. These areas have been abused in the workers compensation system, the committee was told.

Another section of the bill deals with firms that form shell employee leasing companies to avoid higher workers compansation rates.

Though employees continue to work at the same company, they are paid through a shell company that enjoys a lower insurance rate than the firm that formed the shell company.

The bill would allow carriers to charge up to the workers compensation rate that the actual employer would have to pay.

There have been situations, Benson said, where the profit for the shell employee leasing company is the difference between workers compensation rates for the actual employer and the workers compensation rates for the shell company.

The committee passed another bill authored by Benson, House Bill 1300, which would make the statute of limitations begin running from the date of the last authorized treatment of a workers compensation injury. The statute of limitations now begins running from the date of any kind of treatment.

"I think this opens the door to a situation where the injured worker is put at a great disadvantage," Ryan said.

Present law prevents the employee from being lulled into missing the statute of limitations by being treated, Ryan said. …