Workers Comp Reform Package Back on Track

Author Subject: Workers Comp Reform Package Back on Track
watchdog Posted At 23:19:30 06/13/2001
The Management-Labor Advisory Committee (MLAC) on workers compensation today approved a proposal that will defer any response to the Supreme Court’s Smothers decision until the 2003 legislative session and, in the meantime, move forward with a modified version of the workers comp reform package contained in Senate Bill 485.

This is good news for injured workers, who will see more claims accepted, earn higher benefits and receive better treatment from the workers compensation system,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt. Plus, this agreement will allow more time to study and come up with an alternative no-fault system for processing claims under the Smothers case.

In its now-famous Smothers decision, announced one month ago, the Supreme Court clarified that workers who were injured on the job but failed to meet the "major contributing cause" standard for workers comp benefits have a constitutional right to a remedy for their injuries, thereby opening the door to tort claims through the courts. Following that decision, some employers called for ditching SB 485, because of the added court costs they feared would arise when injured workers exercise their rights under Smothers. The Governor reconvened an ad hoc labor-management group to address this issue, and that group produced the recommendations approved today by MLAC.

The new agreement, which will be incorporated into an amended version of SB 485:
Directs MLAC to develop and recommend to the next legislature an exclusive, alternative system that can be used in place of the courts to process Smothers-type claims and provide appropriate remedies for injured workers on a no-fault basis, i.e. without having to prove negligence by one’s employer;
Clarifies how and when injured workers must exhaust their remedies under the workers comp system before pursuing a Smothers-type claim through the courts;
Directs the Department of Business and Consumer Services to gather information on Smothers-type claims in the interim;
Increases permanent partial disability benefits (PPD) by $7.5 million per year, based on the schedule of benefits separately proposed in SB 265; and, Modifies SB 485 by sunsetting the higher PPD benefits as of 12/31/04 and removing provisions relating to interim medical benefits for uninsured workers.
The newly-amended version of SB 485 is expected to be taken up by the House Rules Committee on Friday.

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