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Ruling allowing disability payments after return to work could boost rates

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling in April that deemed it unconstitutional for employers to suspend workers compensation benefits for employees who went back to work after experiencing a work injury could make workers comp rates increase.

The Oklahoma Insurance Department received a supplement from the National Council on Compensation Insurance Friday that showed loss costs had increased 3.4% in Oklahoma. Once a year, the NCCI provides loss cost filings to show how changes in the law and employer loss experience trends are expected to affect future losses in a state. The agency also files supplemental documents when changed circumstances impact the annual filings. The rate increase was attributed to the April 12 court ruling in the Maxwell vs. Sprint PCS case, an NCCI news release said.

The ruling was based on a Sprint PCS employee who injured her knee at work in 2014 and filed for permanent partial disability benefits after returning to work at Sprint. An administrative law judge and the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission ruled that her PPD benefits should be deferred from the time that she returned to her job. Court documents from the case said that under Oklahoma’s workers comp law, it was unfair that injured workers who return to work are denied permanent partial disability benefits, as this would treat them differently from injured workers who are unable to come back to their jobs.

The high court found that PPD deferral rules under Oklahoma workers comp law lowered injured employees who return to work to an unfair “subclass” of workers, which represented an unconstitutional denial of due process.

NCCI’s loss cost filings do not change workers comp insurance premiums. Insurers use the loss cost filings filed by NCCI when setting their own insurance premium rates, the release said.

The loss cost filing is scheduled to go into effect July 1.

However, pending legislation in the state could cause the filing to be withdrawn, NCCI said.