Dealing with Oklahoma's workers compensation system - Part 1


Tuesday, February 8th 2005, 9:50 am
By: News On 6


An issue that poses a serious threat to the state's economy takes center stage as the new Oklahoma legislative session gets underway.

Lawmakers have debated overhauling the workers' compensation system for decades, but some say the issue has reached a critical point.

News on 6 anchor Tami Marler continues her investigation into Oklahoma's broken workers' compensation system.

When we investigate something as complicated as workers' compensation, it's easy to get stuck in all the broken parts, and forget about who's really affected. Steve Kamletz is just one example of why the system needs to be fixed. He spends much of his time bundled up in sweats and a stocking cap, firing off emails from his home computer, telling his story to any lawmaker who'll listen.

In the next room, Talita and Philip are grateful they still have television. How much longer they'll have electricity and heat, Steve Kamletz can't say. "I know if we get a cutoff notice, they could show up on our doorstep the next day and say, you can't provide the necessities for your children." Kamletz hasn't had a paycheck in five months. He'd been installing bus seats at Tulsa's IC Corporation when he started feeling back pain and numbness in his hands and legs. "I had to pick them up, then twist with them and then carry them and put them in place, probably between 60,000 and 80,000 pounds worth of bus seats. They had me doing that without any training or conditioning; no belt, no anything, just said go do that. And I hung in there all day, but I was quite sore."

Kamletz says a few days after he reported his injuries; he was called in to the executive offices. "I had no reason to think that I was going to get fired. That was the last thing on my mind. I had not missed any work, I had put in overtime." He was terminated, even though court documents indicate Kamletz has done everything that's required of an injured worker.

The law is supposed to protect his job and wages, pay for his medical care. But Steve Kamletz is on the verge of losing everything and he's running out of options. "I felt like I worked as hard as I could, and maybe even harder than I should've, and got hurt on the job, and then they just kicked me out like an old stray dog. And I say stray dog because during these months, all the begging we've had to go around from place to place, to try to get help, I mean it just reminds me of an old stray dog going through garbage cans."

Steve Kamletz doesn't know how to navigate the workers’ compensation system, so he had to hire an attorney, which means a lawsuit he never intended to file. Legislators are considering measures that would reduce the need for litigation, reduce the need for dueling doctors, and speed the process for the truly injured worker.

I wasn't able to reach IC for comment, but Kamletz will meet them for the first time in court this week.