Episode 3: Louisville workers’ compensation attorney Ched Jennings is joined by Kentucky Department of Workers’ Claims Commissioner Rob Walker in today’s episode.
Meet Commissioner Rob Walker
Rob grew up in Hardinsburg (Breckinridge County). He attended Western Kentucky University before going to law school at the University of Louisville. In 2001, he and 2 friends opened a law firm to represent injury victims, including those involved in workplace injuries.
In 2020, the Governor appointed Rob Deputy Commissioner and then Interim Commissioner. Earlier this month, he was appointed the Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Workers’ Claims.
What Does the Commissioner Do?
The Department of Workers’ Claims is based in Frankfort. The Commissioner heads up all of it, including almost 100 employees and the budget for the state’s workers’ compensation system. There are currently 15 administrative law judges, with 2 more scheduled to be added in the upcoming year. There are 3 board members who resolve disputes not settled by the administrative law judges. There’s a good deal of regulation and administration involved in overseeing the Department.
“I Came from the Front Lines”
Rob is a former plaintiffs’ lawyer. He has years of experience representing injured people. He brings this perspective to his position as Commissioner. He knows the stress and problems injured workers face.
Ched, who’s a former commissioner, comments that this position is the top administrative position of the Kentucky workers’ comp act, itself. A commissioner works balances interests in that he/she has to work with the governor, the legislature and many other stakeholders.
Kentucky’s Workers’ Compensation Act was passed in 1916. There is a great deal of history and law behind today’s system. Its primary objectives are the early delivery of benefits for injured workers and a speedy resolution of the workers’ comp claims.
Kentucky Leads the Way
Commissioner Rob Walker explains how other states and their leaders look up to Kentucky’s system and how we handle workers’ compensation issues both as a system and at the individual claims levels. Other states actively want to learn from Kentucky.
Ched shares that Kentucky has achieve a reduction in premiums for the last 16 years. It’s much cheaper for employers to pay for workers’ compensation insurance. Not many other business and government programs can boast that type of performance.
Challenges in Rural Areas
Over the past years, it’s become apparent that rural workers are having issues finding doctors to treat workplace injuries and attorneys to handle claims related to those injuries. However, Commissioner Walker is overseeing some solid initiatives and projects to help the system improve.
Improving Kentucky’s System
Rob describes how the Kentucky workers’ comp system is entirely online. Former Commissioner Bob Swisher enabled the system to transition to online, video-based hearings (via Zoom) during the COVID pandemic. This enabled the claims to keep moving through the system. It also meant the injured person, his/her attorney and even the judge no longer had to travel. This has made the claims process much more convenient and efficient.
As we mentioned earlier, in January 2022, we’ll have those 2 additional administrative law judges (ALJs), which will also help to handle the number of workers’ compensation claims being processed. In our system, it’s the ALJ who usually handles the entire claim, unless it gets appealed.
There are also significant ongoing improvements to how Kentucky processes its claims.
Mediation is a terrific opportunity that is gaining acceptance in the KY workers’ compensation system. Every claim can be sent to mediation, free of charge, to have another ALJ work with both the sides to try to reach a fair resolution of the claim. Chief Administrative Law Judge Doug Gott has a success rate of over 99% for the cases he mediates.
Occupational COVID Exposure
There’s another innovative development for dealing with COVID. The governor recently signed an emergency regulation authorizing the COVID 101 Form. If you’ve have a positive diagnosis for COVID, you can expedite your claim for Kentucky workers’ comp benefits as a result of occupational COVID exposure. A decision can be made in as quick as 14 days.
This process is designed specifically for people who are not working with lawyers. The form is fairly user-friendly and can be completed by hand, instead of submitted on a computer.
We would like to thank Commissioner Rob Walker for his time today. We hope our listeners found this episode both interesting and helpful.
Do You Need a Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Attorney?
Office Phone: (502) 583-3882
Follow the Jennings Law Offices on Facebook
Principal Office Address: 401 West Main St., Suite 1910, Louisville, KY 40202
The Jennings Law Offices doesn’t charge for phone calls. Many union stewards and others have Ched’s cell phone number. If possible, we’d like you to come to the office. For some people, that doesn’t always work. Video calls might be an option. In fact, due to the pandemic, many of the hearings and other activities are handled via Zoom video conferencing. You can do a video call from your computer or a cell phone.
That’s it for this episode. We’ll have another one ready for you in 2 weeks. Until next time, remember, this is the Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Podcast. It’s what you need to know.
Principal Office in Louisville, KY