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Martin HawverRemember the last time the dinner table conversation was about Worker Compensation? Or maybe the last time that you went through all those Bill of Rights numbers, and came down to No. 14 for a debate?
Well, a Kansas Court of Appeals panel last week agreed 3-0 that the state’s worker compensation law was amended by the newly turned-conservative 2013 Kansas Legislature back then in a way that damaged that 14th Amendment right of Kansas workers.
Oh, the 14th Amendment? It’s the one that that prohibits states from depriving “any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” Pretty good little amendment. Not as political as the 1st (free speech) or 2nd (guns) but one that probably is important to everyone who works for a living.
That case the justices decided told the Legislature that back in 2013, it passed a work comp damages provision that essentially eliminated that “due process of law” provision.
Here’s what happened:
The Legislature in 2013 amended the Kansas Worker Compensation Act to sharply reduce the damages that an injured worker could receive for a job-related injury. Technically, it moved from the American Medical Association’s Edition 4 schedule to the AMA’s Edition 6 schedule. And the Edition 6 provides lower percentages of compensation than did Edition 4. That newer edition didn’t consider in computation of impairment returning to work, just basic activities of life.
Weird, but the newer version of the disability compensation doesn’t make provisions for, say, lifting boxes in the warehouse, or standing to operate a cash register…
Remember that worker compensation began as an agreement between workers and their employers. A worker is hurt? The American Medical Association has publications that assess the injury and the effect that injury has on an employee’s ability to perform his/her job. The deal between employers and their workers is that injured workers will be fairly compensated for their injuries without having to sue the employers, and the employers defending every job injury. Saved everyone a lot of money, and time. That was the deal.
Oh, and it might not become part of a bet at a bar, but Kansas and Washington state were the first to enact work comp laws, back in 1911.
Well, the Court of Appeals panel decided that the state’s 2013 change of reference for determining disability and payment to injured workers tilted the deal so that it wasn’t a fair trade, workers giving up the right to sue for damages in return for employers providing adequate and fair compensation (through their insurance policies) to those injured workers.
The issue came to the court when a Kansas delivery driver was hurt on the job, and the new disability guidelines book computed his impairment of 6 percent while the older version put his disability at 25 percent. The dollar difference? It was $14,810 for that persistent back injury, while the older AMA book put the disability award at $61,713—a difference of about $47,000.
Now, there undoubtedly have been other workers injured and compensated under the new law, but it took a specific set of circumstances, effective dates of bills and such, to make this case eligible for Court of Appeals consideration, not just the decision of the Workers Compensation Board.
This decision to return to that old Edition 4, with its consideration of not just whether you can survive but actually return to work at some point, sounds reasonable.
Sounds like a fair trade…we’ll see whether the decision is appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court…and how that goes…