Tuesday, December 17, 2013

OK Steals Some of The Drama

The big news in the workers' compensation world and for which I'm sure there will be plenty of opinion is that the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied, for the time being, the state constitutional challenge to SB 1062.

While this is an historic event, further challenge to the law can not be dismissed because the court's ruling is very, very limited.

Specifically the court ruled that SB 1062 does not violate the Oklahoma single-subject rule. This rule prohibits the state legislature from what is known as "log-rolling": inserting language into a bill on unrelated matters. This rule is to inhibit law makers from taking advantage of a bill's progress to gain special interest treatment from an unsuspecting legislature.

The court's opinion had concurring opinions but Justice Reif (who dissented in part) made some of the most salient points about what could be objectionable to the court if the right case with specific facts were brought to it.

1) The appeals process in the opt-out system would "work prejudice in the administration of a statutory right" forbidden by the state's constitution and would thus result in a denial of due process;

2) There can be no due process under opt out disagreements between employer and employee because "the employer has a direct pecuniary interest in the decision of a claim";

3) There is a conflict of interest in the dispute resolution system;

4) Regular workers' compensation cases in existence prior to 2/1/2014 should not be subject to the Court of Existing Claims because these cases are "cases at law" and not subject to administrative determination violating the separation of powers clause in the Oklahoma constitution;

5) Justice Reif questions the new requisite that mental injuries be the product of a physical injury and also takes issue with denial of death benefits to same-sex partners: "[T]he effect is to immunize employers for detriment sustained by employees from work place conditions beyond the control of the employees";

6) Recipients of permanent partial disability are treated differently under the new law because the employer is "authorized to subsidize the re-employment of the injured worker out of the award for the physical detriment that has been adjudicated."

For employers seeking to opt out of workers' compensation in Oklahoma, Justice Reif provided a great service by pointing out elements that may provide scrutiny later down the road, so employers now have a road map by which to design their systems to steer clear of these obstacles.

While opt-out employers have a green light so far, less certain to me are the changes made by SB 1062 to the regular work comp subscribers and the system they operate in.

The Oklahoma reform is going to be the subject of intense scrutiny for years to come as cases go up the appellate ladder challenging the law on these grounds.

Seems that, like with the outsourcing of Hollywood to other venues, not all of the drama in comp is in California...

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