Oklahoma Supreme Court rules part of workers’ comp law is unconstitutional, more lawsuits pending

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Supreme Court handed down a big ruling Tuesday, throwing out part of our state’s workers compensation program because it’s unconstitutional.

The opt out program allowed businesses to opt out of the state worker’s compensation program and provide their own plans.

Now, dozens of companies will have to scramble to get in compliance, while a lot of workers feel they’ve been cheated out of benefits all this time.

“They suffered because they couldn’t provide for their family, they didn’t get any benefits. They couldn’t get any medical care that was reasonably necessary,” attorney Dan Davis said.

Davis represents Oklahomans injured on the job and says a lot of his clients couldn’t get the benefits they deserved after the legislature overhauled the worker’s comp system in 2013.

“We knew when we read the law when it was first passed that it’s unconstitutional,” Davis said.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court agrees.

Tuesday, the justices decided the opt out program violated the state constitution because it created two classes of people: those who worked for employers who enrolled in the state worker’s comp program, and those who worked for companies that created their own plans.

“One plan doesn’t provide for replacement of artificial limbs, so if you lost your arm, your leg, they wouldn’t have to replace it with another artificial limb. That’s how ridiculous these plans were,” Davis said.

The lawsuit that went before the Supreme Court involved a Dillard’s employee who injured her neck and shoulder as she lifted shoe boxes.

Dillard’s had the opt-out plan and denied her claim.

Now, Dillard’s and more than 60 other companies from Big Lots to Cabela’s Wholesale to even Congressman Markwayne Mullin’s plumbing business can no longer opt out.

Those who filed claims are now left wondering if refiling is possible now that the Supreme Court has ruled.

“You better ask the legislature because they didn’t plan for that,” Davis said.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt argued in favor of the law.

He told NewsChannel 4:

“The cost of Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system was once one of the highest in the country, but thanks to comprehensive reforms by the Legislature, recent studies have confirmed that these reforms are working, steadily bringing Oklahoma’s costs in line with other states. Unfortunately, today’s decision is yet another action by the Oklahoma Supreme Court that dismantles these reforms piece by piece. This result is out-of-touch with our current economic climate, threatening to return our State to a system with exorbitant awards, high premiums, and hostility towards employers, ultimately hurting all working Oklahomans.” –Attorney General Scott Pruitt

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