Gavel to Gavel: Big Changes Are Coming

November 2011

By: Travis A. Fulkerson

The Journal Record

Gavel to Gavel: Big changes are coming

by Travis Fulkerson

Recent changes to workers’ compensation laws in Oklahoma promise to make a significant impact. The most significant change affecting the day-to-day operation of employers with respect to work-related injuries will be to the section dealing with soft-tissue injuries. In 2005, the Legislature limited the amount of weekly benefits paid to injured workers while under treatment (commonly referred to as TTD) to eight weeks for soft-tissue injuries, unless the claimant was recommended for or underwent surgery.

Now, to take advantage of the soft-tissue limitations placed on TTD benefits, employers must provide medical treatment within seven days of receiving notice of the claim. In the past, no such requirement was in place. An employer could deny an injury and still receive the benefit of limits on TTD. This will present many employers with a dilemma. Is it better to provide treatment upon receipt of first notice even if the injury might be questioned or, rather, to fully investigate the claim and deny treatment, even though it may result in the loss of these limitations?

My recommendation is to provide treatment initially while investigating the claim. This is a change in how claims might typically be handled, but by providing treatment initially employers retain important limitations on TTD. That can be important in returning injured workers to the workforce more quickly while limiting costs. While the first inclination is to deny benefits while investigating a questionable injury, that action carries a big risk. If the investigation shows the questionable injury really did occur, the employer and insurance carrier still forfeit the eight-week TTD limitation. Likewise, if the employer loses the trial the soft-tissue limitation is forfeited.

Further, the voluntary provision of medical care is not an admission of liability; if it is later determined that the claim should be denied, treatment can be declined. While an employer may spend money in cases that are later denied by the court, the savings in TTD on other cases will more than make up for the difference. If just 10 weeks of TTD benefits are saved, that equates to $7,160 at the maximum TTD rate. Now, prompt medical treatment serves a dual purpose, returning employees to the workforce quickly and providing a clear cost savings to employers.

Travis Fulkerson is a shareholder and director at Fellers Snider in Tulsa.

This article appeared in the November 2, 2011, issue of The Journal Record. It is reproduced with permission from the publisher.
© The Journal Record Publishing Co.

 

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