The reason is obvious — legal fees. One attorney in the firefighter’s case earned $3,000. That’s 20 percent of the award, which was the maximum he could have gotten but also the standard fee in the majority of cases.
Attorneys funnel injured workers to doctors whom they know are likely to provide a diagnosis that helps their case. The firefighter went to a doctor who said the man had suffered 39 percent impairment. The city of Midwest City’s doctor, on the other hand, put the impairment at just 10 percent.
Such discrepancies are the rule, not the exception. It’s generally left to one of the workers’ comp judges to make the final call. In the firefighter’s case, a judge, an appeals panel and another judge all ruled in the worker’s favor.
Firefighters rallied at the state Capitol this week, in part to preserve a system that benefits them but not the taxpayers who pay their salaries or the businesses that employ the taxpayers. Only two states still use a judicial system for worker’s comp instead of a more equitable, business-friendly and taxpayer-friendly administrative system.
As long as Oklahoma retains its court-based system, these sorts of cases will continue. The punishing costs to businesses will only increase. Lawmakers working on reform need to dig the comp system out of its gopher hole. And they need to do this in the next few weeks.
Attorneys funnel injured workers to doctors whom they know are likely to provide a diagnosis that helps their case.