Regular readers of this blog know my feelings about workers’ compensation — The system is already unfair to injured workers. That’s why my law firm philosophy in workers’ compensation cases is to fight hard so our clients receive the maximum benefits possible.
On several occasions, I’ve criticized the completely outrageous concept of opt out systems. These systems started in Texas and then spread to Oklahoma. If you want some background, you can read a few of my prior posts such as:
Basically, in opt out states, large companies can opt out of the regular workers’ compensation system and write their own plans. Ask yourself — Do you really trust Walmart to write a plan providing adequate benefits to its injured workers? I can introduce you to a large number of injured Walmart employees who had to sue the company for proper benefits.
In Alabama, workers’ compensation disputes are resolved in a trial court. In Oklahoma, an opt out system state, these disputes are heard by the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission (Commission). The Oklahoma Commission recently heard its first claim involving a denial of benefits under that State’s new opt out system.
After examining the employer plan at issue and the denial of benefits, the Oklahoma Commission ruled the Oklahoma opt out system was unconstitutional. In reaching it’s decision, the Oklahoma Commission made some interesting observations:
Although at first blush it appears that the Opt-Out Act requires that injured workers under an authorized benefit plan must be afforded benefits equal to or better to those under the Administrative Workers’ Compensation Act, this is decidedly not so. A closer look at the statutorily authorized plan requirements reveals that the benefit plans permitted to be used to opt-out establish a dual system under which injured workers are not treated equally, …
. . .
The appearance of equal treatment under the dual system is like a water mirage on the highway that disappears under closer inspection.
The entire opt out system is a mirage. It’s outrageous to believe that large employers like Walmart will write plans providing the same basic benefits as normal workers’ compensation systems. In truth, the typical opt out plan has arbitrary provisions denying many basic work-related injury claims. Opt out systems are a terrible idea. Employees hurt on the job deserve better.