House Bill 81 Brings Changes to Ohio’s Workers’ Compensation Law
On February 19, 2019, House Bill 81 was introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives. After unanimously passing the House, the bill was introduced in the Ohio Senate where, after amendments, the bill also unanimously passed and was sent to Governor Mike Dewine who signed it on June 16, 2020. The bill will become law 91 days after it is filed with the Secretary of State, which will be on or about September 15, 2020. House Bill 81 makes several significant changes to Ohio’s workers’ compensation law. These include:
- Changes the Statute of Limitations for Violations of Specific Safety Requirements (VSSRs): Injured workers who want to allege that their injuries or occupational diseases were caused by their employers’ violations of a specific safety requirement will have to file their VSSR claim “within one year after the date of the injury or death or within one year after the disability due to the occupational disease began.” Currently, injured workers have two years to file a VSSR claim. This change will bring the statute of limitations for filing a VSSR claim in line with the change in the statute of limitations for filing a claim for a work-related injury which was changed from two years to one year effective September 29, 2017.
- Expands Payment for Post-Exposure Medical Diagnostic Services: Currently, section 4123.026 of the Ohio Revised Code requires the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and self-insured public employers to pay for post-exposure medical diagnostic services to investigate whether a peace officer, firefighter or emergency medical worker sustained an injury or occupational disease by coming into contact with the blood or other bodily fluid of another person while in the course of their employment. House Bill 81 expands section 4123.026 to require self-insured detention facilities to pay for these services for their employees, including corrections officers. House Bill 81 also expands section 4123.026 to require the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, self-insured public employers and self-insured detention facilities to pay for post-exposure medical diagnostic services to investigate whether any of the aforementioned employees sustained an injury or occupational disease through exposure to a drug or other chemical substance.
- Potentially shortens the life of a claim: Through a subtle change in the language of section 4123.52 of the Ohio Revised Code, House Bill 81 has the potential to shorten the life of certain workers’ compensation claims. Under the current version of section 4123.52, a claim expires after five years passes since “the date of the last payment of compensation.” Ohio courts have interpreted “payment of compensation” to include payment of medical benefits so that, even if no compensation has been paid in a claim for five years, the payment of a medical bill would prevent the claim from expiring. The claim would remain open for five years after payment of the medical bill. However, House Bill 81 adds language to section 4123.52 which provides that a claim will expire after five years “from the date of the last medical services being rendered or the date of the last payment of compensation.” Thus, in the absence of payment of compensation, the five years will begin to run when the medical service is rendered instead of when it is paid for, shortening the life of the claim.
- Attempts to Settle the Law on Voluntary Abandonment: After years of conflicting case law, House Bill 81 attempts to settle the law on voluntary abandonment by specifically stating that the new law is intended “to supersede any previous judicial decision that applied the doctrine of voluntary abandonment to a claim [for temporary total disability compensation].” Whether House Bill 81 settles the law on voluntary abandonment is open to debate. The bill adds a subsection to section 4123.56 of the Ohio Revised Code which simply states: “If an employee is not working or has suffered a wage loss as the direct result of reasons unrelated to the allowed injury or occupational disease, the employee is not eligible to receive [temporary total disability] compensation.” The bill also eliminates voluntary abandonment language from section 4123.58 of the Ohio Revised Code, the permanent total disability statute. Claimants’ attorneys will undoubtedly argue the General Assembly’s intent in enacting this section of House Bill 81 was to eliminate the concept of voluntary abandonment from Ohio’s workers’ compensation law altogether, while employers’ attorneys will argue, more accurately, that the intent of the General Assembly was to bring clarity to the conflicting case law and eliminate judicially-created exceptions to voluntary abandonment principles. Thus, whether the General Assembly has actually settled the law on voluntary abandonment remains to be seen.
- Limits an Employer’s Right to Contest a State-Fund Settlement: House Bill 81 adds a subsection to section 4123.65 of the Ohio Revised Code which prohibits an employer from denying or withdrawing consent to a settlement application if 1) the claim is no longer within the employer’s experience for impacting its future premiums and 2) the employee is no longer employed by the employer. This means that in this situation, the employee can file an application for the approval of a final claim settlement without the employer’s signature on the application.
Different sections of House Bill 81 will apply to claims with different dates of injury. The VSSR provision will apply to claims with dates of injury on and after the effective date of the new law (on or about September 15, 2020). The voluntary abandonment provision and the provision to limit an employer’s right to contest a state-fund settlement will apply to claims pending on, with dates of injury on and before, and claims with dates of injury after the effective date of the new law. The provision that has the potential to shorten the life of a claim will apply to claims with dates of injury on and after July 1, 2020. House Bill 81 is silent as to the effective date of the provision expanding payment for post-exposure medical diagnostic services, so presumably the provision will apply to claims with dates of injury on and after the effective date of the new law.
Disclaimer: This alert has been prepared by Eastman & Smith Ltd. for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney/client relationship.