Workers' compensation system reform concerns business owners, but it typically generates indifference from other citizens. Two recent cases illustrate why the broader public may ultimately favor reform.
In Enid, former plant worker Darlene Rivera sought workers' comp benefits after falling down in 2011. The catch: She didn't fall while working, but while crossing an icy parking lot to smoke a cigarette. So far, judges have ruled in Rivera's favor once and against her twice. She now seeks an Oklahoma Supreme Court hearing.
That case calls to mind state Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, who sought benefits for a car accident while driving to the Capitol. Workers' comp doesn't apply to the average citizen traveling to work, but Christian argued that his district is his “duty station” and the drive to the Capitol is part of his job.
Christian didn't file a claim for more than a year. He even told a doctor that his symptoms had resolved just weeks after the accident. But by 2012, Christian claimed his neck problems were so severe he could no longer mow his lawn or drive without difficultly. He was ultimately awarded over $51,000, an amount far exceeding his annual legislative salary.
Most Oklahomans have no problem with workers' comp benefits for an employee who loses an arm to heavy machinery, but we suspect most oppose penalizing employers if workers choose to put themselves at risk of injury to get a tobacco fix or suddenly claim excruciating-yet-difficult-to-quantify pain when it turns out a novel legal argument might net the “victim” more than a year's salary. It's one thing to be compassionate, another to feel conned.
At least we don't have our workers' comp system and Colorado's marijuana laws. Then employees could file claims for pot break accidents that would be treatable only with a cash award and a renewed supply of medical-grade weed.