By Shawn Ashley, eCapitol
The Oklahoma Supreme Court refused Monday to grant original jurisdiction in a case challenging the constitutionality of opt-out portion of the state’s 2013 workers compensation reform system.
Plaintiffs Judy Pilkington and Kim Lee, two workers who filed injury claims, argued that provisions in the workers’ compensation opt-out plans adopted by their employers are greatly inferior to provisions in the state administrative system.
More than 30 companies have taken advantage of the opt-out provision, which allows employers that meet certain qualifications to become exempt from the state system and to operate their own workers compensation plans.
Concurring in the decision to deny the request for original jurisdiction were Justices Joseph Watt, James Winchester, James Edmondson, Steven Taylor and Norma Gurich. Chief Justice John Reif and Justice Tom Colbert dissented. Concurring in the result were Vice Chief Justice Douglas Combs and Justice Yvonne Kauger. The decision was released without an opinion.
Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak, who was named as a party in the suit, said, “The Oklahoma Supreme Court has decided against becoming embroiled in the latest attack on our state’s innovative workers’ compensation system. Attorney General Scott Pruitt has done a fantastic job representing our office in this case. I appreciate the challenging and continuing effort of our Legislature to advance Oklahoma as a desirable location for employers to create jobs. My department has worked to ensure that we are following both the letter and the spirit of the law so that the benefits provided by employers to protect their employees are exactly what our Legislature and Governor developed. We will continue to implement the law as tasked and appreciate the importance of our role in ensuring that Oklahoma’s employees are provided with the best workers’ compensation protections in the nation,” Doak said.
Under the law, the Insurance Commissioner may qualify employers to provide benefit plans that provide statutorily mandated benefits following a thorough application and review process.