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
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
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
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. …