Oklahoma workers' compensation opt-out provisions spark judicial questions

Oklahoma Supreme Court justices peppered attorneys with questions about opt-out provisions in a new workers' compensation law Tuesday during oral arguments on a challenge to the constitutionality of the measure.
by Randy Ellis Published: December 11, 2013
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Oklahoma Supreme Court justices peppered attorneys with questions about opt-out provisions in a new workers' compensation law Tuesday during oral arguments on a challenge to the law's constitutionality.

The new law enacted by the Oklahoma Legislature would convert the state from a judicial workers' compensation system to an administrative one.

It would allow employers to opt out of the system as long as they provide coverage for the same injuries as the state-operated administrative system and provide benefits to injured workers that are at least as generous.

Law a high priority

The law was a high priority of Gov. Mary Fallin and Republican legislative leaders, who have said it will help businesses by reducing workers' compensation costs. Opponents claim cost savings will come at the expense of injured workers.

Oklahoma City attorney John McMurry, who is challenging the law on behalf of two state lawmakers and the Professional Fire Fighters of Oklahoma, argued that not all Oklahoma employers and employees would be treated equally under the law.

Employees of companies that opt out of the system would have “fewer rights” than employees of companies that participate in the administrative system, McMurry argued.

An employee of an opt-out company who is dissatisfied with the way the employer has handled a claim would first have to appeal to a panel of three persons appointed by the employer, McMurry said.

Eventually, the employee would be able to appeal a series of adverse decisions to the state Supreme Court, but McMurry argued the standard of review would be different and might not give the court as much latitude to correct an unfair decision.

Same treatment

Oklahoma Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick defended the new law, saying all employers are treated the same because they all have the option of opting out of the administrative system and providing their own system as long as they provide equivalent benefits.

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by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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