The Edmond Sun

March 15, 2013

Attorney: Work comp reform penalizes injured workers

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — State Senate Bill 1062 is bad for injured workers and is a direct assault on working families in Oklahoma, said Edmond attorney Tim Reese.

The rights and benefits of injured workers in the state will be drastically reduced if SB1062 becomes state law, Reese said Friday at the weekly meeting of Oklahoma County Democrats.

Authored by Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, SB 1062 passed in the Senate and is  being considered in the House of Representatives.

On the job injuries in Oklahoma pass through the litigious workers compensation system. Oklahoma is one of two states in the U.S. that does not handle workers comp claims through an administrative process, Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon said during a recent visit to Edmond.

Shannon said SB1062 would improve business in the state by attracting companies to do business here. An adversarial workers comp system in the state works against workers and business, Shannon said.

“I’m pleased to hear the governor supports an administrative system and I think we in the House will be pushing that, too,” Shannon said.

SB1062 is designed to benefit physicians and employers by redirecting financial benefits to workers, said Reese, a workers comp attorney.

“In a third-party negligence action, total attorney’s fees and costs would be limited to 20 percent, blatantly unconstitutional,” Reese said. “An employer would receive 75 percent of the net recovery, and the injured worker would get the tiny bit left.”

Today, District Court has the authority to divide the proceeds of a third-party recovery, Reese said.

Temporary total disability maximum payments to injured workers would be cut by 30 percent “when the worker is off work on doctor’s orders and can least afford it,” Reese said.

“Amputation awards are greatly reduced from current law,” Reese said. “For a worker making $500 weekly, benefits are drastically cut.”

 For an amputated arm, Reese said a worker would receive $20,000 less money or 23 percent less. Worker’s comp benefits for an amputated hand would be reduced by $16,000, or 23 percent, he said.

“For loss of hearing in both ears, $24,000 less or 23 percent less,” Reese continued. SB1062 would not allow benefits for the injured worker who returns to work for one day, Reese pointed out.

“This is blatantly unconstitutional and invites litigation for wrongful termination,” Reese said. “For example, a worker could have two back surgeries from an injury that no one contests, return to work for one day, and then his doctor decides the worker cannot perform the job. Under this bill, the employer would owe zero for permanent partial disability.”

Widows’ death benefits also would be cut by this bill, Reese said. A 55-year-old widow to a husband who earned $600 a week in salary would see her death benefits cut by 32 percent if she remains unmarried and lives to be 80, Reese said.

“I’m confident we will have an administrative system that protects injured workers but doesn’t penalize the employers that provide those jobs,” Shannon said.



TO FOLLOW SB1062, go to http://www.oklegislature.gov/BillInfo.aspx?Bill=SB1062&Session=1300. Read the text at http://legiscan.com/OK/research/SB1062/2013.