The Oklahoma Workers Compensation Court (OWCC) is comprised of ten judges appointed by the state's governor to serve a six year term. Workers comp lawyers in Oklahoma say that the political affiliation of the governor who appointed the judge presiding over your claim can dramatically affect the outcome of your came. Many attorneys representing employees in workers compensation disputes assert that Republican governors tend to appoint conservative judges who may be miserly in awarding benefits to employees than judges appointed by Democratic governors. Recent statistics about the workers compensation claims awarded and denied in Oklahoma in 2012 seem to demonstrate that this belief may be true.
Last year, Governor Mary Fallin appointed four judges to the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Court:
[caption id="attachment_1651" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Image Credit: owcc.state.ok.us[/caption]
The four new appointees replaced C. Kent Edridge, Gene Prigmore, Cherri Farrar and John M. McCormick as OWCC judges. They granted 25 fewer partial disability
awards in the last half of 2012 than their predecessors did in the first half of the year, and the average award was $27,469, more than $5,000 less than the average of $32,561 awarded by the departing judges. They furthermore rejected more claims, denying 132 claims compared to 117 denials by the predecessors.
Though Republican judges may apply workers comp laws liberally and Democratic judges may apply the laws conservatively, attorneys who represent employees say there is a definite trend toward conservative rulings by judges appointed by Republican governors and liberal rulings by judges appointed by Democrats.
The difference is illustrated by figures from the OWCC under former governors Frank Keating and Brad Henry. In 2002, all judges of the court were appointed by Republican Governor Frank Keating. That year, the workers compensation payments for Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) averaged $14,112. Just nine years later, in fiscal year 2011, all of the judges of the OWCC had been appointed by Democrat Governor Brad Henry. That year, the average PPD award was $33,680.
Oklahoma workers compensation reform legislation and more Republican-appointed judges on the OWCC bench may make it more difficult for injured employees to get the benefits they need and to which they are entitled. Hiring an experienced Oklahoma workers comp attorney who understands how to properly handle a case for maximum benefit regardless of the presiding judge is the best way to get the workers compensation benefits for which you qualify.
- Margaret AnneBomhoff, Edmond, a former workers' comp lawyer representing employers
- Michael William McGivern, Tulsa
- Lloyd Bradley Taylor, Tulsa
- Carla Jo Snipes, Oklahoma City