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Oklahoma Supreme Court upholds new workers' compensation law

A new workers' compensation law replaces Oklahoma's judicial workers' compensation law.
BY RANDY ELLIS rellis@opubco.com Modified: December 16, 2013 at 8:46 pm •  Published: December 17, 2013
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In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Douglas L. Combs agreed the law didn't violate the single-subject rule but said provisions established for employers who opt out of the administrative system “do not provide adequate due process protections” for injured employees.

“Right out of the gate, claimants whose employers have opted out receive a lower level of due process protection than claimants whose employers chose not to, and that decision is not made by the claimant, but by the employer,” he wrote.

Vice-Chief Justice John F. Reif expressed similar concerns in an opinion that dissented from a portion of the court's majority opinion.

“A fundamental element of due process is a fair and impartial trial,” he wrote. “Under the opt out system, the employer and any ‘appeals' committee chosen by the employer cannot satisfy the impartiality requirement of due process, because the employer has a direct pecuniary interest in the decision of a claim.”

Several elected state officials and lawmakers issued news releases Monday praising the court's decision upholding the constitutionality of the new law.

“The decision by the court is a victory for the reform of workers' compensation in Oklahoma and those who desired to see our antiquated system changed,” Attorney General Scott Pruitt said. “I am thankful that our office was able to play a significant part in upholding the changes made by the Legislature by successfully defending the constitutionality of the law.”

Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John D. Doak said the ruling is “great news” for economic development and jobs in the state of Oklahoma.

“Oklahoma currently has one of the highest average costs of workers' compensation benefits in the nation, which has had an enormous impact on our state economy,” he said. “The new law has already shown significant workers' compensation insurance rate decreases across the state and will continue to bring positive change to our state by ensuring Oklahoma is one of the best places to do business.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said he was confident from the beginning that the law wasconstitutional.

“With this ruling, the creation of the new state Workers' Compensation Commission can continue without delay to ensure a seamless transition for businesses and employees alike,” he said.