Lawmakers must fill comp system’s hole

The Oklahoman Editorial Modified: March 20, 2013 at 5:55 am •  Published: March 20, 2013

OKLAHOMA’S workers’ compensation court offers endless examples of why the state needs a new way to deal with claims filed by injured workers.

A Midwest City firefighter was awarded $15,100 last month for a knee injury. Was he injured lugging a hose to a blaze? Mounting or dismounting a fire truck? Carrying someone from a burning building? No. His knee locked up while he was digging out a gopher hole in his backyard.

Why was this case in workers’ comp court? The firefighter and his attorneys said he had first hurt the knee while running on a treadmill at work eight months earlier. More than one judge bought this argument.

Oklahoma’s workers’ comp system has gone to seed, fertilized through the decades by a handful of specialty law firms and a few high-profile comp attorneys who ensure that cases like the firefighter’s go forward. Most of the real work is done by secretaries and paralegals.

The state has a problem when a firefighter exercising on a treadmill tweaks his knee, reports it to his supervisors, then goes about his business as usual for eight months — until his knee gives him trouble while doing something else. Only then does he decide that the injury is work-related.

We have a problem when a worker falls off a ladder on a Monday morning and says his spill had nothing to do with the fact that he’d been using meth during the weekend. Or when a woman who is told she needs knee surgery decides the best way to pay for it is to claim she got hurt on the job. The state has a problem when, instead of telling these people that they’re straining credibility, attorneys say, “See you in court!”

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