They are having a really tough time in Oklahoma. A few years ago they proudly rolled out their new and shiny workers' compensation reforms, declaring a new day had dawned and life would henceforth be wonderful. Today the bent and twisted wreckage of that effort litters the ground, looking more like a rickety plane that hit the mountain at a very high rate of speed.

And that mountain, it turns out, is the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Yesterday, in the case of Legarde-Bober v. Oklahoma State University, the court gutted yet another provision of the 2013 reforms, that which excluded from coverage injuries that occurred in employer owned parking lots and on sidewalks entering or leaving work. In a stinging 6-3 rebuke, the justices found that an injury from an icy fall on the sidewalk before a teacher clocked in was compensable, and “was related to and in furtherance of the employer’s business.”

In an opinion for the majority, Justice Noma Gurich wrote that the parking lot and sidewalk are not adjacent to the premises, they are the premises.

Ouch. For many a blinding glimpse of the obvious.

In April the Oklahoma SC's put the kybosh on another part of the state's workers' compensation law, saying the “provisions deprived workers of their due process rights and created a subclass of workers.” The decision invalidated a portion of the law that authorized deferral of payments for permanent partial disability for workers who eventually return to their jobs. The justices ruled that unconstitutional.

One week after that, the Supremes concluded that the state's Workers' Compensation Commission had the power to determine constitutionality of any provision of the state's workers' compensation laws based on how they were applied within any proceeding before the Commission.

And of course, the early April decision was viewed by many as a possible indicator of outcome for another case, where they will be ruling on the whole Opt Out scheme, which was an integral part of that state's workers' comp reform efforts. That particular shoe has yet to drop, but I'm not betting on a win for the Opt Out brigade.

I have had mixed emotions regarding Oklahoma reforms. I was a fan of their shift to the more common administrative system, and away from a clunky, litigious and inefficient court system. Workers' comp was intended to be self-executing, and properly designed and managed it should be. The Opt Out element of those reforms, however; well, let's just say I'm “not so much” a fan.

With the exception of the horrible sections that created the Oklahoma Option, I think the issues the state is seeing are not really tied to the framework of reform, but rather the specific restrictions they created within the legislation. They are not the only state with this problem. Oklahoma seemed to mimic Florida on the 104 week TTD restrictions – a provision that just went down in flames here in the Sunshine state. They set extremely low benefit payment rates; some of the worst in the nation. For temporary total disability payments, only Georgia and Mississippi are lower. I think overall the frame of the shiny new aircraft was not that bad. It was the poorly loaded contents that brought this beast down.

I have been writing quite a bit lately about the National Discussion and efforts to identify and correct issues within the workers' comp industry. “Benefit Inadequacy” was an imperative issue identified in that effort, and Oklahoma seems to be the poster child for that concept. The pendulum has probably swung too far in that state, and lawmakers need to take a realistic look at a more balanced approach for a solution.

They can rebuild that plane. They just need to load it more carefully, with content that won't knock them off balance and bring them plummeting from the sky.

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