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
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,
"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. …