Dealing with Oklahoma's workers compensation system - Part 2

Tuesday, February 8th 2005, 5:27 pm
By: News On 6

Who's to blame for Oklahoma's broken workers' comp system? Businesses complain about the rising cost of insurance and greedy attorneys who file bogus claims. Injured workers say the system is too complex and slow and it takes too long to collect a small check.

News on 6 anchor Tami Marler shows us, the strong survive in the workers compensation battle.

Kamletz's wife and children rejoiced when he landed a job at Tulsa's IC bus plant. He was making enough money to buy a modest home and pay the bills. "I worked alot of overtime hours and helped clean up whenever I could I thought to help out."

Steve says he gave his all, until he was injured last September. Within a few days of reporting his injury, he was stunned when he was terminated, along with his family's health insurance. "I just have never been treated like this. I got hurt on the job, and then they just kicked me out like an old stray dog."

Kamletz says IC denied his back injury and he can't afford to find out what's causing his pain. Five months after his injuries, he's battling IC in court and he says no one will hire him until the case is resolved. Joe Rumple was a manager at IC when he too was injured. He says the company tricked him into settling his claim before he'd completely healed. "They're there for the company, not the employee."

Workers' compensation records indicate IC has had 70 claims since it opened in 2001. Each claim is handled through the company's safety department.

"No corporation may discharge or terminate any group health insurance of any employee because the employee has in good faith filed a claim." State law prohibits employers from terminating workers or from canceling their health insurance for filing a claim in good faith. “Corporation who violates shall be liable for reasonable damages, actual and punitive. Punitive shall not exceed $100,000."

The wrongfully-terminated employee is entitled to relief in district court. But that takes time and money and injured workers like Steve Kamletz have neither.

Tami Marler spoke with an official at IC's corporate offices in Chicago Tuesday. Roy Wiley tells Tami, one of IC's key values is respect for people. "IC is always working on programs to protect its employees; the company has a comprehensive safety program and an excellent safety record."

State lawmakers are working to address the punitive nature of workers compensation in Oklahoma.