In an effort to save tax dollars and spur business growth, Oklahoma has begun the process of streamlining its workers compensation court system. Employee cutbacks in the system already have occurred, with more planned for the future. They are expected to save hundreds of millions for the state's businesses.
Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation court system recently split into two agencies, following similar cost-cutting moves by other states nationwide. But the change from a Workers Compensation Court system to an administrative system has delayed some court cases, according to the Tulsa World.
As of July 1, the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Commission and the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Court of Existing Claims (the latter of which will handle claims filed before Feb. 1) began operating as separate, stand-alone agencies. New workers compensation claims will be processed only by the commission, as the old court system is phased out.
The current system handles 330 trials, pretrial conferences and other hearings each day, according to the Tulsa World. In the last fiscal year, the court’s 10 judges handled more than 83,000 hearings.
Under the new system, six judges will take care of the court’s existing cases as well as new claims filed for injuries under the old system.
The revamping is the result of Senate Bill 1062, approved by the state legislature last year. The goal is to create a more efficient, less costly court system.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said in a press release that the new system is designed to treat injured workers quickly and fairly, while cutting legal red tape and costs to businesses.
“Oklahoma has had one of the most expensive and inefficient workers’ compensation systems in the country, a constant obstacle for businesses looking to expand operations or create more jobs,” Pallin said.
It remains to be seen just how much money will be saved through the court system change, but state officials have rosy predictions of massive savings. The State Chamber of Oklahoma estimates the workers compensation reforms will save the state’s businesses $263 million per year.
Reducing the number of judges has had the effect of decreasing the necessary amount of administrative staff people, since fewer judges means fewer administrators are needed. Other cost-saving measures that are part of the revamping include efforts to resolve more cases through mediation, electronically recording hearings rather than hiring a court reporter to record them, and electronically filing documents.
Due to the changes, the staff for the state’s workers compensation system dropped from 75 to 59.