Important Workers’ Compensation Legislative Update

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On June 27, 2013, the House passed a committee substitute to SB 174, which, in addition to disapproving certain rules of the Industrial Commission (with, in some instances, mandating how to fix the rule), also made some changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act.  The bill does go back to the Senate for concurrence, which is expected to happen within the week. It is anticipated there will not be any objection since the current bill was an agreement between the plaintiff bar, the defense bar and the business community.

SB 174, which was a compromise consensus bill negotiated between plaintiff and defense attorneys, including Larry Baker of CSH, accomplished several goals:

1.       Clarified the procedures for all Medical Motions by amending 97-25. Now, all motions will be filed with the Chief Deputy Commissioner, who will then act as the “gatekeeper” to determine if the motion is an “Emergency Medical Motion” (which should be rare), an “Expedited Medical Motion” or any other type of medical motion not needing an expedited ruling. Emergency Medical Motions will have to be ruled on within 5 days, based on documents presented by the parties.  Expedited Medical Motions will provide for taking necessary depositions, if warranted, and allow up to 35 days from the date of filing to complete those depositions (unless the Commission increases or decreases that time limit for good cause shown).  A ruling should be within 45 days.  All other motions are referred to the Executive Secretary and should be ruled on within 60 days.

2.       Correct, both by changing 97-18(K) and instructing the IC on how the rule should read, the Form 23 reinstatement of benefits procedure such that the procedure and time frames now mirror those for a Form 24 procedure to terminate benefits.  In the past, for some inexplicable reason, the time frames were shorter for reinstating benefits.

3.       Clarified the Vocational Rehabilitation Rules to eliminate ambiguity regarding the definition of suitable employment such that the Vocational Rehabilitation rules properly use the new statutory definition created for claims arising after June 24, 2011.  Previously, the proposed rules still required the Vocational counselor to consider transportation needs in identifying suitable jobs.

4.       Require the IC to submit their stated “operating procedures” (Historically created in “Minutes” handed down by the Commission) to the Administrative Procedures Act, which requires that the proposed procedure be published and public comments obtained before implementing those procedures.

5.       Made minor, but necessary corrections, to several other proposed rules.

Also note that earlier in the session, the legislature amended 97-85 to require that all Full Commission hearings be subject to being transcribed by a court reporter unless the parties agree to waive this requirement.  This rule begins August 1, 2013.