MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

July 4, 2014

Court moves cause delays in worker comp

TULSA — Hearings for thousands of injured workers will be delayed this month while the state’s workers compensation system is split into two agencies— each with its own staff, offices and equipment.

Scheduled hearings in the system’s Tulsa and Oklahoma City courts between July 21 and Aug. 1 have been postponed and will be rescheduled, according to letters from the court to attorneys.

Court Administrator Michael Harkey said he didn’t know how many cases were affected.

“You know there’s a lot of rumblings, but the fact is we had to cancel some dockets so we could just move people to different offices,” he told the Tulsa World.

The move marks the change from the Workers Compensation Court system to an administrative system. Gov. Mary Fallin’s plan to revamp the workers compensation program was approved by the Legislature last year.

The current court system handles 330 trials, pretrial conferences and other hearings each day, according to its most recent annual report. Last fiscal year, the court’s 10 judges in Oklahoma City and Tulsa handled more than 83,000 hearings.

Under the revamped program, six judges will now handle the court’s existing cases as well as new claims filed for injuries under the old system.

Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said the state is “already hearing from the State Chamber (of Oklahoma)” about the success of the new system.

“There’s a reason that these changes have been made, and that’s basically that the old system was weighed down with bureaucratic inefficiencies,” he said. “Workers compensation costs were costing the state jobs.”

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