The Supreme Court of Oklahoma struck down yesterday parts of that state’s Workers’ Compensation law.
In a 7-2 decision, the Court’s ruling invalidated the permanent partial disability deferral provisions of the state’s workers compensation statutes of 2013.
Justices on the Court said that deferring permanent partial disability payments if an injured worker returns to work was unconstitutional.
According to Justice Noma Gurich, who wrote for the majority, “an injured employee who returns to work receives no compensation for the physical injury sustained and no compensation for a reducing in future earning capacity, upending the entire purpose of the workers’ compensation system,”
Two other Justices, Tom Colbert and Joseph Watt,said that the decision does not go far enough “to cure the Legislature’s unconstitutional scheme” and hinting that other provisions could have been tackled in the ruling.
The decision that led to the Court’s finding, involved four cases filed with the state’s Workers Compensation Commission by workers who were injured on the job.
In at least one case, officials improperly relied on American Medical Association guidelines for evaluating the extent of permanent impairment to a worker, according to the article.
An attorney who represented two workers in the case said that, “it is another example of the court having to correct a poorly written law.”
However, the president and CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma said that he was disappointed with the decision and believes the court should defer to the Legislature.
“Oklahoma workers and employers both benefit from an administrative rather than court-based system,” Fred Morgan said in a statement.
“Both groups are harmed when the court continues to act like an unelected legislature, overturning the will of the people through their elected representatives.”
Morgan’s comments are typical of Republican and conservative views when issues such as these are decided against them and their right-wing agenda, which is to return the nation to the 19th century, economically and politically.
They decry “activist judges” when decisions are rendered that upend their reactionary ideology and goals, but declare that the Courts are carrying out the will of the people when they rule in their favor.
What is the bottom-line here?
Workers’ compensation is increasingly being challenged, yet the industry itself refuses to yield to new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing improvements in the treatment and care of injured workers, and allows the Courts or legislatures to pick apart aspects of the laws that either hurt workers or hurt employers, but never do they consider what the workers want.
Instead, some are content to put their words in workers’ mouths, and declaring that injured workers will not seek surgery outside the US. Were they ever asked? No, and if it was up to many in the industry, it never will. So things will only get worse, not better.