New Ok Law Makes Compensation More Difficult for Injured Workers

On behalf of Brown & Crouppen, P.C. posted in Workers’ Compensation on Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shortly before the end of the 2011 session, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a workers’ compensation reform bill that drastically reduces the amount of time injured workers have to decide to file for benefits and allows employers to pressure them to settle their claims before consulting an attorney.

Gov. Fallin signed the bill, SB 878 into law at the same time she vetoed a “trailer bill,” SB 761. The main bill reduces the length of time an injured worker has to file a workers’ compensation claim from two years to just 90 days. It also contains language that encourages workers to meet with the employers insurance company to negotiate a settlement without hiring an attorney, said Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, one of only eight legislators to vote against the bill. He pointed out that both the insurance companies and the doctors they hire are represented by attorneys, putting an unrepresented worker at a significant disadvantage at the negotiation table.

Supporters said SB 878 would save businesses tens of millions of dollars by reducing the number of compensation judgments, as well as the compensation paid by the insurance companies. According to the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, the current system of compensating Oklahoma’s workers for injuries sustained on the job is bad for job growth. The new bill will make business leaders happy, leading to more jobs created in the state, Rep. Sullivan argued.

The bill passed both branches by wide margins. The state Senate passed it unanimously on a 48-0 vote, while the House approved it 88-8. The Legislature also passed a trailer bill, SB 761, that would have raised the amount doctors could charge workers’ compensation insurance providers for certain medical devices such as wheelchairs or prosthetic limbs. Gov. Fallin vetoed the bill on May 27, saying it did not contribute to the business cost savings intended by SB 878.

The late veto was apparently designed to block the Legislature from holding a vote to attempt to override her veto. The 2011 session was constitutionally required to end May 27, which did not give legislators enough time to reconvene, since 24 hours’ notice of a vote session is required under Oklahoma law.

Source: The Oklahoman, “Oklahoma governor signs workers’ compensation bill,” Michael McNutt, May 25, 2011

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