Okla. Court Says Law Can’t Bar Evidence in Workers’ Comp Case

July 16, 2007

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has invalidated a portion of a state law that prohibits medical evidence to be presented in a workers’ compensation case from a doctor hired by an injured worker.

The court said it is unconstitutional to restrict the Workers’ Compensation Court from hearing evidence relative to a workers’ comp claim.

The decision drew a mixed reaction. It was applauded by an official of the state Democratic Party, but condemned by an official of a group that represents businesses across the state.

The law was passed during a special legislative session in 2005 and signed by Gov. Brad Henry. It represented a compromise after lawmakers could not agree during the regular session. Authors of the bill were former House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, and Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater.

The provision in question allowed the employer to choose the “treating physician” in a workers’ comp case, who would rate a worker’s percentage of disability. A second physician called an “independent medical examiner” also could be brought in to rate the injury.

The law allowed a judge to choose either recommendation or a percentage between the recommendations of the two doctors. Evidence from the personal doctor of a worker could not be presented, however.

The state high court held it was unconstitutional to restrict evidence that could be considered by a judge.

Ivan Holmes, state Democratic chairman, hailed the ruling in a statement.

“The Oklahoma Legislature has no right to take away from an injured worker’s right to present evidence from their own medical expert regarding the extent of their injuries, so this was the only logical decision the Oklahoma Supreme Court could have made,” said Holmes, who became state party chairman this year.

However, Mike Seney, senior vice president for operations at the Oklahoma Chamber, which represents scores of businessmen, had a different reaction.

“Frustration,” was how he characterized his feelings about the ruling. He said the bill was vetted by attorneys inside and outside the Legislature and seemed to be a good solution to what he said was a problem of plaintiff workers’ comp attorneys bringing into a case “doctors who are hired guns and give a higher rating that what is appropriate.”

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