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Changes Coming to Ohio Workers’ Compensation as Ohio House Bill 81 is Signed into Law

On June 16, 2020, Governor Mike DeWine signed House Bill 81 (H.B. 81) into law, which made significant changes to Ohio’s Workers’ Compensation law. H.B. 81 makes significant changes to the doctrine of voluntary abandonment of a claim, the statute of limitation on filing a VSSR, a state fund employer’s settlement authority and the statute of limitation on a claim, among other minor changes. The most relevant portions of the Bill are summarized below. Of note, the effective date of the Bill will be 91 days from when it is filed with the Secretary of State (estimated to be mid-September).

Voluntary Abandonment

Previously, the Supreme Court created confusing standards for applying the doctrine of voluntary abandonment in a claim as a defense of payment of TTD and PTD compensation. H.B. 81 attempts to clarify and codify the voluntary abandonment doctrine by introducing language that states, “if an employee is not working or has suffered a wage loss as a direct result of reasons unrelated to the allowed injury or occupation disease, the employee is not eligible to receive [temporary total] compensation.” Thus, to receive temporary total disability, a claimant must be unable to work or must suffer a wage loss as a direct result of an injury or occupational disease, and prohibits a claimant from receiving such compensation when a claimant is not working or suffered a wage loss as the direct result of reasons unrelated to an allowed injury or occupational disease. Further, H.B. 81 eliminates the voluntary abandonment language from the permanent total disability statute. Specifically, the language in H.B 81 was added to supersede any judicial decision that applied to wage loss or temporary total disability claims. It is unclear what effect the new law might have on the ruling of Gross v. Indus. Commission, which held that when there was a close nexus of an employee’s termination and injury, then the termination was not voluntary, and did not preclude an employee from receiving TTD.
This provision will apply to claims pending on, or arising after, the effective date of the Bill (91 days after it is filed with the Secretary of State). The section does not further define “pending,” thus creating some potential ambiguity.

VSSR

H.B. 81 reduces the time a claimant has to file an additional award for a violation of a specific safety rule (VSSR) from two years to one year. Currently, the statute of limitations for an injury claim is one year from date of injury, and an occupational disease claim is two years from date of disability. H.B. 81 creates the potential for a VSSR claim to be precluded based on a statute of limitations basis on an occupational disease if the claim is filed more than one year from date of disability.
The VSSR provision will apply to claims with dates of injury on and after the effective date of the new law.
Employers Settlement Authority
In matters where a settlement agreement has been reached between the employer and the employee in a state fund case, H.B.81 states an employer may not withdraw from the agreement during the thirty day time period between execution and the agreement and the agreement taking effect when the employee is no longer employed by the employer and the claim is no longer in the employer’s experience period.
This provision is will apply to claims pending on or arising after the effective date of the Bill. The section does not further define the term “pending,” which creates ambiguity.

 

Statute of Limitations/ Length of a Claim

Prior to the enactment of H.B.81, the revised code limited life of a claim to 5 years from the date of last paid compensation, which included medical payments. Ambiguity existed as to whether the triggering date was when the claimant actually received the medical services, or when the payment for such services occurred, which could be significantly longer. H.B.81 clarifies the triggering language to five years from the rendering of medical services, as opposed to the payment of said services, which can substantially shorten the length of a claim.
This provision will apply to claims with dates of injury on and after July 1, 2020.

A copy of the complete text of H.B. 81 can be found at : https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/legislation/legislation-documents?id=GA133-HB-81

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