It is not uncommon for there to be disputes between injured employees and their employers or insurers about the payment of workers’ compensation benefits. Unfortunately for employees, employers and their insurers have the upper hand because they control the purse strings. If payments are not made, employees must seek a remedy through the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission.
Until recently, an insurer could withhold payments and avoid any serious consequence by paying the amounts due or settling the claim at the last minute. This was a powerful tool for insurers because they could wear down a claimant and sometimes even avoid payment simply because the claimant gave up.
That is no longer the case. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has clarified that a claimant may file a lawsuit against an employer or its insurer for bad faith, even if the disputed payments have been paid.
In the case, Meeks v. Guarantee Ins. Co., Meeks had filed a bad faith claim against his employer’s insurance carrier for failure to pay benefits as ordered by the Workers’ Compensation Court (WCC). The insurer had repeatedly failed to pay temporary total disability (TTD) payments to Meeks as ordered by the WCC. Guarantee had been ordered to pay penalties and interest on late TTD payments in six different orders by the WCC.
In a seventh action, Meeks sought a certification from the WCC that would allow him to proceed with a bad faith claim in district court. The WCC declined to issue the certification because Guarantee had paid the penalty being sought before the hearing occurred.
The district court granted Guarantee’s motion to dismiss the case because the WCC did not certify that there were benefits that remained unpaid. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that a district court has jurisdiction in bad faith claims involving WCC orders not only when benefits remain unpaid but also when benefits have not been provided as ordered.
This ruling means that insurers will not be able to play a cat-and-mouse game with claimants designed to avoid the payment of benefits that have been legitimately ordered.
If you are having problems with receipt of workers’ compensation benefits or have other questions about an on-the-job injury, call us today at 918-582-2500, or contact us online for a free consultation with an experienced Oklahoma workers' compensation attorney.