Settlement reached in lawsuit alleging overcharges in Ohio workers' compensation premiums

The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation has agreed to pay $420 million to state employers for overcharging them for insurance premiums for years.

The settlement announced Wednesday night in Cleveland ends a class-action lawsuit that dragged on for years. It creates a fund to repay businesses that were overcharged for workers' compensation premiums from July 2001 to June 2009. More than 200,000 small business owners in the state were affected.

A court ruling said Ohio's state insurance fund for injured workers set up an illegal rating system that resulted in employers being overcharged nearly $860 million. The state settled the case rather than appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Both sides said they were satisfied with the settlement.

Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation administrator Steve Buehrer says the state has made major changes to its system.

"The policies that were at issue in this litigation in 2007 are not the same ones in place today, and we're pleased that we have reached a settlement so we can move forward," Buehrer said in a statement. "Improvements have been made to how premiums and discounts are calculated, as well as to billing practices, and premiums are continuing to go down as a result."

Earl Stein, co-owner of a deli and lead plaintiff in the case, said that because of the lawsuit, "thousands of Ohio businesses who might otherwise have gone out of business are still here — creating jobs and growing our economy."

"This is a wonderful outcome," Stein said in a news release issued by attorneys. "The past abuses have ended, thousands of businesses who were overcharged will now get money back that can be reinvested, helping them grow their businesses — and the families and employees who were hurt by this system will now have additional resources to help rebuild their lives."

The court still has to approve the settlement.