Ohio House Bill 81, first introduced back in February of 2019, contains several significant changes regarding workers’ compensation law. Signed by Governor Mike DeWine on June 16, 2020, the bill is set to become law on September 15, 2020. The changes brought about by the bill include a reduced statute of limitations for Violations of Specific Safety Requirements (VSSR’s), a change in determining the life of a claim, a limitation in employers’ ability to contest state-fund settlements, and, perhaps most significantly, the codification of the voluntary abandonment defense to the payment of temporary total disability (TTD) compensation.
Beginning with VSSR’s, these are an additional award available to injured workers whose injuries or occupational diseases are the result of their employer’s violation of one or more of the specific safety requirements found in the Ohio Administrative Code. The statute of limitations for a VSSR application had been two years from the date of injury, even after the statute of limitations for filing the underlying claim itself was reduced from two years to one year in 2017. House Bill 81 remedies this discrepancy, bringing the statute of limitations for a VSSR down to one year, as well.
Regarding the life of an allowed claim, the language of the current version of Ohio Revised Code section 4123.52 states that a claim expires five years after the date of the last payment of compensation or payment of medical benefits. House Bill 81 contains a change to the language of that section, substituting “last medical services being rendered” for “payment of medical benefits.” Though the change is subtle, the overall effect will be to shorten the active life of claims, as payment of medical benefits always comes after the medical services are rendered—sometimes significantly later.
For state-fund settlements, a new subsection added to Ohio Revised Code section 4123.65 now prohibits employers from contesting settlement of a state-fund claim when it is both out of the employer’s experience for impacting its annual premiums and when the claimant is no longer employed by the employer. When both of these conditions are met, a claimant will now be able to file an application for settlement of the claim without the employer’s signature.
Finally, House Bill 81 codifies the common law doctrine of voluntary abandonment, a doctrine that has been the subject of many often-conflicting court opinions over the years. Expressly stating that it is “the intent of the general assembly to supersede any previous judicial decision that applied the doctrine of voluntary abandonment,” a new subsection added to Ohio Revised Code section 4123.56 provides, “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 [TTD] compensation.” While the language is certainly more concise than the virtually innumerable quotes that can be pulled from the various court opinions on the subject, only time will tell whether application of the doctrine is accordingly simpler and more straightforward. On its face, however, this change does appear to be favorable to Ohio employers, arguably broadening the availability of the voluntary abandonment defense to payment of TTD compensation.