Up until now the idea behind workers’ compensation insurance has been that employees injured on the job can expect medical treatment and wage replacement regardless of who is to blame. It’s a no-fault system that provides assistance to workers even if they were responsible for their own injuries and statutory protection to the employer from liability lawsuits.
This legislative session Oklahoma passed and the governor signed into law legislation SB 1062 to revamp the entire state workers’ compensation system. The legislation consists of three parts: the Administrative Compensation Act, the Oklahoma Employee Benefit Act (including the opt-out provisions) and the Arbitration Act.
In essence, employers now have the option of leaving the state system and devising their own privatized system.
The insurance commissioner has wide discretion on what to require from self-insured employers to ensure payment of claims.
Employers must continue to pay benefits at least equal to those mandated in the existing statutory system. However, companies also have extraordinary discretion in designing benefits and managing claims.
Employers retain immunity from virtually all negligence suits based on unsafe conditions or safety issues.
Employers gain complete discretion in defining what injuries are covered and designing a medical management program.
Employers may close any claim with a lump-sum payment.
Employees have a lot to lose when fault is an element in determining whether there is coverage for workplace injuries. Those employers who opt out are likely to require employees to sign mandatory arbitration agreements, thus eliminating civil suits and public litigation of what might be embarrassing work conditions.
Oklahoma residents deserve access to justice, using the laws and courts to secure their rights and the privileges of citizenship.
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