Kansas attorney general asks state Supreme Court to uphold workers’ compensation law

photo by: Associated Press

Justices return from recess during hearings before the Kansas Supreme Court in Topeka, Kan., Thursday, May 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

TOPEKA – Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Tuesday asked the state Supreme Court to reverse a recent lower court ruling and uphold the state’s latest workers’ compensation law as constitutional.

The case involves a Kansas City-area man, Howard Johnson III, who injured his back while working at U.S. Food Service in October 2015.

Two years earlier, the Kansas Legislature passed a bill updating the guidelines the state uses for assessing workplace injuries and disabilities. For years, the state has used the American Medical Association’s Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. But in 2013, lawmakers adopted the newer Sixth Edition of those guides, which provides for substantially lower cash awards for injured workers than the previous Fourth Edition.

Johnson challenged the award he received, arguing that it was so low that the state’s law effectively took away his constitutional right to seek judicial remedy for his injuries, and in June, a three-judge panel of the Kansas Court of Appeals agreed and struck down the 2013 change as unconstitutional.

Mark Kolich, a Lenexa attorney who represented Johnson, said in an interview Tuesday that a lengthy appeal of the case could bring the entire workers’ compensation system in Kansas “to a grinding halt” because attorneys representing injured workers will be reluctant to sue as long as there is a chance that the court might put the older version of the AMA’s guidelines, with its higher awards, back into place.

Schmidt, however, said in a statement that he believes the Court of Appeals overstepped its bounds.

In a brief filed with the Kansas Supreme Court, Schmidt said that it was within the Legislature’s and governor’s authority to amend the law by adopting the newer guidelines and that the Court of Appeals should not have second-guessed the Legislature.


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