Legal Challenges to New Workers’ Compensation Law Defeated — Finally!

Kegler Brown Labor + Employee Relations Newsletter

Just two weeks before the November 7 election, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch effort by organized labor to undue major provisions of a sweeping workers' compensation reform bill.

The new workers' compensation law, Senate Bill 7, was signed by Governor Taft in March and was due to become effective in late June. However, the United Auto Workers Union mounted an effort to place an issue on the November ballot that, if passed, would have removed significant portions of the law. Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, the UAW sought to invalidate only those provisions, agreed to by representatives for the injured workers, Ohio employers and the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, that were deemed unfavorable to injured workers. Therefore, if the UAW's effort had been successful, the employee-friendly provisions agreed to by representatives for Ohio employers, as a compromise to obtain concessions from the claimants' bar, would have remained in the law while the rest would have been thrown out.

The Secretary of State provisionally accepted petition signatures submitted by the UAW and placed the referendum effort on the November ballot as Issue 1. However, upon investigation, the Secretary of State concluded that not enough valid signatures were submitted to get the issue on the ballot. The UAW contested the Secretary of State's decision and initially obtained an injunction from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas preventing the Secretary of State from removing Issue 1 from the ballot. The injunction was eventually lifted and subsequent appeals to the Franklin County Court of Appeals and Ohio Supreme Court were rejected. At last, the Bureau of Workers' Compensation and Ohio employers can implement the new provisions in their workers' compensation program.

Following is a list of some of the new provisions:

  • Requires a "substantial" aggravation of a pre-existing injury, rather than merely a "symptomatic" aggravation, for a claim to be compensable. Also allows termination of benefits once the pre-existing condition returns to pre-injury status.
  • Reduces the "life" of all claims to five years rather than the current six year (medical only) and ten year (lost time) "statutes of repose".
  • Reduces the 40-week waiting period for the filing of a permanent partial application to 26 weeks.
  • Reduces the number of available weeks of non-working wage loss compensation from 200 to 52.
  • Increases the Bureau's $1,000 medical only claim program to $5,000.
  • Expands anti-fraud provisions, primarily against employers and providers.
  • Permits penalties against self-insuring employers for failure to timely pay assessments.
  • Makes rape or sexual assault a compensable claim whether or not the victim suffers any physical injuries.
  • Clarifies and limits entitlement to statutory permanent total disability compensation.
  • Eliminates a claimant's right to dismiss an employer's court appeal without the employer's consent.