The Kansas Supreme Court overturned the appeals court on Friday, ruling that a law passed in 2013 requiring that employee disability assessment be based on specific guidelines is not unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court said that the law requiring ratings based on the 6th edition of the American Medical Association’s Guidelines for Assessing Persistent Disability could be construed as merely establishing a guideline, not a strict mandate. As such, it cannot deprive injured workers of the rights guaranteed by the Kansas State Constitution, as the appeals court ruled.
“The 2013 changes merely reflect an update to the latest guidelines, which serve as the starting point for any medical opinion,” the court said in a statement from Judge Caleb Stegall.
Applicants’ lawyers across the country have challenged the use of the 6th edition of the AMA guides, arguing that they are wrongly reducing permanent disability benefits by underestimating the degree of functional impairment. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court enacted state law mandating the use of the guidelines for assessing impairment and found it to be an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power to the AMA. However, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected a similar challenge in 2018.
In Kansas, delivery driver Howard Johnson III has launched a legal challenge to the policy after injuring his back while attempting to open a frozen trailer door in 2015. Johnson returned to work at US Food Service after back surgery. A doctor rated his disability 6% based on the 6th edition of the AMA guidelines – resulting in a permanent disability rate of $ 14,804.70.
Johnson’s doctor testified that under the 4th Edition of the Guidelines, which was the standard in Kansas until the law was changed in 2013, his disability was rated at 25%. That would have brought in a price of $ 61,713.70.
An administrative judge declined to hear Johnson’s argument that the law that required the use of the 6th Edition violated his rights under Section 18 of the Kansas Constitution that all injured persons must have an appeal. However, in 2018 the appellate court ruled that the law on the use of the 6th edition of the AMA was unconstitutional as it was not an adequate substitute for an insured employee’s right to file a lawsuit against his employer.
In Kansas, as in most other states, workers are not allowed to commit illicit acts against their employers because workers’ compensation is their only remedy.
However, the Supreme Court wrote in its opinion that the Court of Appeal interpreted Section 44-510 (3) (2) (B) to require the use of the 6th edition of the AMA Guidelines. The Court of Appeal stated in its ruling that as a result, the law removes any discretion on the part of the doctor in determining impairment ratings, even though a different language is used elsewhere in the labor compensation laws that ratings must be based on “competent medical evidence”.
The Supreme Court said the law could also be interpreted to require the use of the 6th edition as a guideline, while leaving the requirement that evaluations be based on competent medical evidence intact.
“The latter interpretation gains sense and support given the legislature’s choice of the words” based on “in the statute,” the court said. “The use of the term” based on “generally means a guideline rather than a mandate.”
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