Ohio House Bill 197 Passed: What This Means for Workers’ Compensation
Effective March 27, 2020, the Ohio Legislature passed House Bill 197 as a direct response to Governor Mike DeWine’s executive order earlier that month.
How has HB 197 changed Ohio workers’ compensation? Two main ways: permitting public meetings and “tolling” deadlines.
Section 12 of HB 197 permits government agencies to convene via video conference through Dec. 1, 2020 (unless the COVID-19 emergency ends prior to that date). The Industrial Commission of Ohio has done so numerous times to address procedural changes brought on by COVID-19, including how to best conduct hearings and whether to hold permanent partial disability hearings during the crisis (the latter was publicly broadcast). They are expected to meet again via video conference in the future to address a return to normalcy. Notably, the commission has voted to cancel the Statewide Hearing Officer Meeting on Sept.14-15, 2020, but it is possible the meeting may be rescheduled in some other form.
“Tolling” is the legal term for temporarily pausing a statute of limitations or deadline. Section 22 of HB 197 tolls any time limit that would expire during the “emergency period”—March 9, 2020 to July 30, 2020—or at the end of the emergency period, whichever comes first. An extension of this period beyond July 30, 2020 will need additional legislative action.
Relative to workers’ compensation, the time limits covered in this tolling provision are expected to include the following:
- The time limits for filing a claim (one year for regular injuries, two years for occupational diseases);
- The time limit for claim expiration (five years since last payment of compensation or medical);
- The time limit for bill payment (one year from date of service or, in contested claims, six months from the final order allowing the claim);
- The time limits for appealing orders of the BWC/Industrial Commission (14 days for most issues); and
- The time limit for bringing appealable issues to common pleas court (notice of appeal due 60 days from receipt of final “refusal” order, complaint due 30 days thereafter).
The tolling issue presents a number of potential gray areas. The commission is expected to assume no appeal is intended if an appeal deadline is missed, but it will grant an appeal thereafter if an issue is appealed within the emergency period or within the tolled statute of limitations. In situations where claimants receive compensation, a successful appeal filed after the normal statute of limitations could result in a large overpayment—a unique concern for self-insured employers who may later attempt to recoup this amount.
Generally, if a deadline is truly tolled, the clock is fully stopped. This means hearings occurring within the emergency period will technically be appealable until 14 days after this emergency period ends—meaning Aug. 13, 2020. This would mean hearings that occurred shortly before the emergency period now have an appeal window that is partially expired and partially tolled. For example, if an order was received on March 1, 2020, that would mean seven days of the 14-day appeal window expired before the emergency period began, and the remainder is frozen for an appeal after the emergency period ends. In that scenario, the appeal to an order received March 1, 2020, would be due no later than Aug. 6, 2020.
Another gray area to note is any deadlines falling outside the emergency period are not impacted by HB 197. For example, a traditional injury occurring in August 2019 must be filed within one year (by August 2020). That one-year statute of limitations is not subject to tolling because the deadline to file falls outside the emergency period. These same issues apply to bill payment, court appeals, etc. It is advisable to consult your third-party administrator or counsel to address these unique timing issues.
It should also be noted deadlines not codified in the Ohio Revised Code or Administrative Code are not specifically addressed in HB 197. So, certain limitation periods—such as the 14-day reconsideration deadline promulgated by IC Resolution R18-1-04—may not be specifically tolled. We encourage adherence to all deadlines where possible, regardless of tolling, to avoid any timing issues.