Although Ohio House Bill 81 (H.B. 81) will not go into effect until September 15, 2020, many of its significant changes to current Ohio Workers’ Compensation Law already are being discussed by claimant’s counsel and employer's counsel throughout the workers’ compensation community.
The first major change encompassed by H.B. 81 involves the shortening of the time for the filing of claims asserting a Violation of a Specific Safety Requirement (VSSR). The current time limit for the filing of a VSSR claim under Section 4121.47 of the Ohio Revised Code is 24 months from the date of the injury. Under H.B. 81, for all such claims arising
on or after September 15, 2020, that time limit has been reduced to one year. This change to the statute of limitations for VSSR claims appears to be an attempt to bring this section of the workers' compensation world into alignment with a previous amendment passed by the General Assembly in 2017 that reduced the statute of limitations for injury and death claims to one year for all claims arising on or after October 1, 2017. With the enactment of H.B. 81, only claims of an occupational disease brought pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 4123.85 continue to allow for a two-year statute of limitations.
The second major change encompassed by H.B. 81 pertains to the continuing jurisdiction of the Ohio Industrial Commission to make modifications or changes
for a period of five years with respect to former findings or orders involving matters of disability, compensation, dependency or benefits. Under current Ohio law, that time period begins running from the last payment of compensation or last payment for medical services. For claims arising on or after July 1, 2020, H.B. 81 now permits a five-year continuing jurisdiction period to commence from the last payment of compensation or the last rendering (providing) of medical services. This should serve to hasten the beginning of that five-year time period since payment for medical services usually occurs after those services are rendered.
The third major change set forth by H.B. 81 effectively legislates a “proximate cause” standard to Section 4123.56 as it relates to the
awarding of temporary total benefits or wage loss compensation, while expressly setting forth the “intent of the general assembly to supersede any previous judicial decision that applied the doctrine of voluntary abandonment to a claim brought under this section.” For claims pending or arising after September 15, 2020, “an employee who is unable to work or who suffers a wage loss as the direct result of an impairment arising from an injury ... is entitled to receive compensation under this section ...” (emphasis added). If an employee is not working or has suffered a wage loss as a direct result of reasons unrelated to the allowed injury or occupational disease the employee is not eligible to receive compensation.
There is a final major change included in H.B. 81 that may potentially affect a state-funded employer’s desire to settle claims under Section 4123.65. For claims arising on or after September 15, 2020, an employer will no longer be able to deny or withdraw consent to an application to settle a claim if both of the following apply to the claim: 1) the claim is no longer within the employer’s experience; and 2) the employee named in the claim is no longer employed by the employer. This change will serve to limit an employer's ability to object to the resolution of claims that do not have any impact on the employer.