Annual Performance Review: A Year after Changes, Lawyers Criticize Workers' Comp System

By Denwalt, Dale | THE JOURNAL RECORD, March 13, 2015 | Go to article overview

Annual Performance Review: A Year after Changes, Lawyers Criticize Workers' Comp System


Denwalt, Dale, THE JOURNAL RECORD


OKLAHOMA CITY - In a news conference last month, officials with the state Workers' Compensation Commission and the State Chamber of Oklahoma celebrated the first birthday of a system praised as more efficient and better for business.

Despite the picture painted by members of the commission, however, some attorneys who work in the system believe it is less fair and takes longer to resolve cases.

One of those attorneys, Bob Burke, has petitioned the Oklahoma Supreme Court to rule part of the law unconstitutional and hopes that dozens of other parts of the 2013 workers' compensation restructuring effort will eventually be struck down or repealed. Burke is representing two workers who were injured on the job. The plaintiffs contend that a portion of the law that allows employers with their own workers' compensation benefits plan to opt out of the new administrative workers' compensation system denies injured workers due process of law.

In its year-one progress report, the WCC said an analysis of claim data showed the so-called loss cost due to comp claims had fallen 22 percent, or $220 million, in the past two years. Supporters of the commission also said Oklahoma's workers' comp insurance premiums were sixth highest in the country before the 2013 law, but have since fallen.

"I think we all realized we were putting a Band-Aid over a broken system," Chamber CEO and President Fred Morgan said of previous legislative efforts. "We knew the problem was we were using an outdated adversarial system that resulted in friction between workers and employers on a daily basis."

The new administrative system is meant to keep workers from filing lawsuits. Commissioner Denise Engle said the system got so bad that workers were suing their employers regardless of how claims were handled.

"For the business owner, they felt terribly trapped and helpless in a situation they couldn't improve," she said. "This new system changes the dynamics completely."

Burke, who represents injured workers and publishes an annual report on workers' compensation with industry attorney Tim Cooley, said he's OK with having an administrative system. It's a partial continuation of the old system that he disagrees with. …

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