Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Deputy Fights $1,100 Workers' Compensation Award after Shooting

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Deputy Fights $1,100 Workers' Compensation Award after Shooting

Article excerpt

OKLAHOMA CITY - Just moments after Joseph Potts put a 12-gauge blast into Deputy Jeff Epley's chest, then foot, then arm, and two rifle shots into his back, Epley tried to rescue another injured officer.

"I'm trying to drag (the officer) away from the house, and I can't get my right hand to work; it wouldn't close all the way," Epley said, recounting the April 23, 2015, incident in the southeastern Oklahoma town of Rufe.

Epley was wearing a bulletproof vest that stopped the buckshot and rifle rounds from reaching his vital organs. He had more disastrous injuries to his foot, though. After several surgeries, he still walks with a limp and has to rub out aches, especially when it's cold.

His injury qualifies for a permanent partial disability, a declaration under workers' compensation rules that provides cash to people who are injured on the job. In Epley's case, his insurance company offered to give him about $1,100 based on the almost two- year-old law that determines how injured workers get paid.

Changes to Oklahoma's workers' comp law included a strict reliance on a national medical guide for rating someone's permanent impairment. Epley's attorney, Greg Barnard, said that in the past doctors were able to consider several factors when assigning an impairment rating.

"We now have probably the lowest permanent impairment ratings for injured workers in the country," Barnard said, referencing a study by the Oklahoma Coalition for Workers Rights that made the same claim.

Lawmakers introduced sweeping changes to workers' comp laws as a way to reduce costs paid by businesses and get employees back to work faster. One of the ways that was accomplished was by eliminating the Workers' Compensation Court for new cases in favor of an administrative process, thereby reducing the influence of trial attorneys.

Barnard said that before the law was introduced in 2014, Epley could have been awarded between $17,000 and $20,000 for his permanent foot injuries. …

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