Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation may appeal ruling related to excessive insurance premiums

CLEVELAND - The administrator of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation said the agency may appeal a court ruling that would force the agency to pay $860 million to small businesses, charities and churches in the state.

Last month, the Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals upheld a 2007 ruling that the agency must reimburse approximately 272,000 employers who were charged excessive insurance premiums.

"It's a significant amount of money and I hope you report there are some very important principles about how our agency and the workers' compensation system in Ohio will operate. And those things ought to be heard by the highest court in Ohio," said Steve Buehrer, the administrator, when questioned by NewsChannel5 Investigator Sarah Buduson Wednesday.

"It makes absolutely no sense for the BWC not to pay the money," said Terrence Copeland, the risk manager and attorney for The Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland.

Copeland said the non-profit, which funds the majority of the Head Start programs in Northeast Ohio, is owed $200,000.

He said the excessive insurance premiums that were charged in 2005 and 2006 threatened the non-profit's federal funding.

"There were furloughs, there were layoffs, there were terminations," he said.

He said the non-profit paid approximately $700,000 for workers' compensation insurance for around 500 employees in 2005 and 2006.

"We thought we were being treated equally. We were not being treated equally."

The class action lawsuit started with Earl Stein, a co-ower of Corky & Lenny's in Woodmere.

Accorging to Stein's attorney, Pat Perotti, the state charged individual employers higher premiums to offset lower rates given to companies that formed groups.

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"These overcharges affected the smallest businesses the worst because they were the ones being hit with these excess premiums and this caused many of them to go out of business. It caused a number to have to fire employees,  to eliminate benefits for employees, to eliminate job creation and equipment purchases," said Perotti

The BWC has until June 30 to decide whether to appeal the appellate court ruling.

Buehrer said the agency has changed the way it charges employers and that all rates are now fair for employers